Tagshopping

New bike shopping

I know it’s winter time, and it took 2 hours, but it was worth it.

The showroom at Working Bikes Cooperative expanded after their move to 2434 S Western Avenue, giving my sister a lot of choices to peruse. She needed a new bicycle. Her current one had poorly working brakes, wheels in bad condition, and lacked features every urban bike should have: a way to protect the rider from puddles, snow and wet pavement; a way to carry stuff; an appropriate number of gears; a way to protect the rider’s pants from grease and getting them caught in the gear.

Over 50 bikes for sale right now, along with countless parts like seatposts, brakes, handlebars, fenders, and chain guards.

Working Bikes had road bikes, hybrid bikes, mountain bikes, and vintage cruiser bikes from Huffy, Schwinn, Miyata, Nishiki, Trek, and Schwinn. It’s no wonder Schwinn dominates – their bikes were made in Chicago for decades after the company started here. Bikes are still made under that name, and even though the quality may not be the same, the brand still has power and relevancy.

After walking around the showroom several times where I pointed out my preferred bikes for her (3-speed cruisers) and asking her questions, she selected, on her own, a Schwinn 3-speed cruiser that had been spray painted black. I supported the choice as it also had fenders (this helps keep the bike and the rider free of snow) and a chain guard (yay).

She talked to a staff member about test riding the bike and went off down 24th Place. She said of the ride, “I felt like I was cheating on Big Blue but it felt soo right.”

She bought a black Schwinn – not pictured. The day’s rain didn’t stop us.

I test rode the bike to ensure it was in working order. After more than twenty years, the internal gear hub still works – but I completely expected this.

I found a used Wald quick release basket and after showing my sister how easily it attached and detached, she was sold. The manager priced it on the spot at $10. When new it costs about $19. I pointed out the oddly short rear fender so my sister picked out a long blue one from a parts bin that the manager priced at $5. The blue was for flare. And finally, we found a slightly longer seatpost for $1. After tax, my sister’s new urban-appropriate bicycle came out to $119.

Our journey took two hours because it first took us longer than 30 minutes to get there as we yubered there on my Mundo. After she test rode the black one, I wanted her to test ride another Schwinn that came with an already long rear fender and had different gear ratios. I don’t remember how long it took us to get home, but we enjoyed some pan fried veggies and pasta when we arrived.

Related: Working Bikes Cooperative, which uses profits to send rebuilt bicycles to poorer countries, blended with West Town Bikes, a learning bike shop, gives you B.I.C.A.S. in Tucson, Arizona.

Introducing Grocery Store Bike Parking Ratings

This article is part of a series (it seems) of grocery stores with poor bike parking – it first started with my local Dominick’s. I started an inventory and rating system for Chicago. I welcome your contribution. If you want to start a page for your town, I can help you with that.

After seeing the photos of the wacky bike parking situation at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods on Ding Ding Let’s Ride, I had to take a trip there myself!

By my count, I find that with 3 wave racks (of 2 sizes) and 3 grill racks, there are 27 bike parking spaces. You can debate me and possibly find 4 more.

Surely you can fit more, just like you can fit 4 bikes on a 2-space Chicago u-rack.However, the racks are installed so closer together to make this area quite a pain to find a space. And if you have a long wheelbase cargo bike (bakfiets, Madsen, or Yuba Mundo), GOOD LUCK!

The only space available for a longtail cargo bike like my Yuba Mundo is in a car parking space next to a hybrid Chevy Tahoe illegally parked in a handicapped parking space.

Photo showing too-close placement of the two kinds of racks. Notice that some bikes hang into the curb – it was the only way to use that bike rack. Other spaces might not have been opened when these people arrived.

But officially, for planning purposes, the Chicago Department of Transportation considers that rack as only fitting 2. This area could easily be sheltered. I think it’s something the store should look into. It provides sheltered car parking, which costs proportionally more than sheltered bike racks!

In the future, I expect better from Whole Foods.

For now, Target takes home the cake for providing consistently “good” bike parking. (Great’s the best a store can achieve.) So far, the rating system isn’t fully formed or automated. It’s a work in progress!

Sidenote: Access to Whole Foods via bicycle really sucks. There’s a 5-way intersection controlled by stop signs; then there’s the old railroad track and potholes. It might be better if you come in from the south, but then you have more RR track to deal with.

Photo montage showing how to access Whole Foods from Sheffield by bicycle.

Finally justice for bike shoppers in Bridgeport

I just got off the phone from a vice president at Dominick’s who personally informed me that the company will be installing a bike rack in the sheltered alcove of their grocery store at 3145 S Ashland, in Bridgeport, Chicago. He was unsure of the bike rack type, but was confident that it was the wave rack type they installed at the Lincoln Square store (I approve).

Bike parking at new, LEED-certified Dominick’s in Lincoln Square, Chicago.

Hard work pays off. I emailed and mailed the CEO of Safeway, Steve Burd*, after my letter to the store’s manager and call to customer service fell on, not dear ears, but unmotivated ones. Read the complete backstory.

He admitted the company failed to install a rack during the 2008-2009 renovation – possibly due to budgetary concerns. Which is really funny because the bike racks I know of cost about $300. And it doesn’t need annual maintenance.

Anyway, he said the installation target date is November 5, 2010!

*Mr. Burd’s email is either [email protected], or [email protected] One of them bounced, and now I can’t recall which.

The truth about Wal-Mart’s contribution to the tax roll

I recently wrote about how Wal-Mart plans to expand its reach in Chicago in a big way (30 new stores big). Politicians around the country consistently like to be heard saying how one way the store(s) will benefit the city is the additional tax revenue the city will see from property and sales tax contributions. Here are selected quotes from Chicagoans:

On Tuesday, [Chicago Mayor] Daley noted that a Wal-Mart expansion would pave the way for sales tax windfall for the cash-starved city budget.

In suburban Cook County, about 20 percent to 30 percent of all sales tax revenue comes from Wal-Marts, Daley said.

Chicago Sun-Times, June 15, 2010

“Everyone realizes we need the tax revenue,” [Alderman Anthony] Beale [9th Ward] said.

Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 2010

Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, a pro-union alderman, lamented Wal-Mart’s domination of the nation’s retail market and its tendency to sell foreign-made products, but voted for Pullman Park because of the need for jobs and additional tax revenue.

Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2010

Comparatively, Wal-Mart brings in little property tax revenue on a per acre basis, according to a study from Sarasota County (Florida) and Public Interest Projects and posted by Citiwire. I’ve summarized their findings:

  • Single-family home: $8,200 per acre
  • Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club: $150.00-$200.00 per acre
  • Southgate Mall: $22,000 per acre
  • High-rise mixed-use project in downtown Sarasota: $800,000

That last one’s the kicker! From the Citiwire article, “‘It takes a lot of WalMarts to equal the contribution of that one mixed-use building,’ [Peter] Katz noted.” Read the full story for more examples and for more discussion on how this specific breakdown of costs and benefits is only one way to look at fiscal and retail impact.

If the same tax revenues were true for Chicago or Cook County (and I can’t say it is or isn’t), then the city planners and aldermen should be seeking developers to build high-rise mixed-use projects. Right.

But the issue Chicago and other cities have is that Wal-Mart is one of the most willing developers – they will build where no one else will. They have capital that no one else has. They have the resources to sway the population. It’s more politically difficult to resist such a willing partner like Wal-Mart than it is to seek relationships with developers who have the resources to create more beneficial mixed-use projects in the neighborhoods Wal-Mart seems to prefer.

Wal-Mart moves in, in a big way

Every Chicagoan should know by now that Wal-Mart, who currently only has a single store in the city limits, plans to open about thirty new stores (the City Council approved the construction of a Supercenter in the Pullman community area on the far south side*). Wal-Mart announced they want to open “dozens of new stores” in the next five years in various sizes ranging from 8,000 square feet (think Walgreens) to 20,000 square feet (think Apple Store Michigan Avenue) to the typical 200,000 square feet Supercenter.

This is big news for Chicagoans, and residents of New York City (there are no Wal-Marts in NYC). Not only will they be able to buy Coca-Cola for 20 cents a can, they won’t be able to shop at existing stores – because many of them will close. For now, the Chicago Tribune is keeping tabs on the developing story.

People in Chicago protest a new Wal-Mart. Disclaimer: This photo is from 2005, before the first Chicago Wal-Mart opened in 2006. However, in 2010, prior to the City Council vote, there were rallies protesting and showing support for new Wal-Mart stores. Photo by Andrey Smagin.

While they report on the recorded impacts of incoming Wal-Mart stores on new markets, I hope they answer the questions surrounding the confusion over the alleged negotiations between Wal-Mart executives and Chicago labor unions (representing construction and service employees). The unions say they got Wal-Mart to agree to a minimum wage of $8.75 while Wal-Mart says it’s just a matter of internal policy to adjust wages for the market.

Wal-Mart has funded a possibly influential campaign to get Chicagoans to support their new proposed new stores. Part of the campaign included ads on buses and putting signs and t-shirts on youths in the street, saying “Jobs or else.” If you want a Wal-Mart in Chicago, the company urges you to contact your alderman. Photo by Ira of Being Totally Sweet in Chicago.

So what are those impacts?

Wal-Mart can afford to be bold, and its impact is readily seen. Median sales decrease 40 percent at similar high-volume stores when a Wal-Mart enters the market, 17 percent at supermarkets and about 6 percent at drugstores, according to a study published in June 2009 by researchers at multiple universities and led by the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Drugstores like Deerfield-based [Illinois] Walgreens are the least impacted, according to the study, and are generally able to stay afloat by increasing their assortment size.

Supermarkets, the study found, can survive by doing their best to differentiate themselves from Wal-Mart, rather than attempting to compete.

Ideas about marketing and additional discussion of impacts is written on page two of the article. This light investigation from the Tribune comes after a recently released study from the University of Illinois at Chicago (my alma mater). Here’s the synopsis from that study about the sole Chicago Wal-Mart in the Austin (west side) neighborhood:

The study found that stores near Wal-Mart were more likely to go out of business, eliminating the equivalent of about 300 full-time jobs — about as many as Wal-Mart initially added to the area.

Read the full press release on the UIC News site or download the study (PDF).

*UPDATE: Where is the Pullman community area? It’s northwest of Lake Calumet and home to the former Pullman Palace Car Company’s factory and company town (see detailed street map of the Pullman community area). There are four commuter rail stations on the Metra Electric line within walking distance of the new shopping center. The development, called Pullman Park, will be located at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Expressway (I-94). It includes shopping, a school, and housing, among other uses. The CTA #111/111th Street bus will run near Pullman Park.

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