Just a few blocks from the Alamodome in a renovated house on Cherry Street, Marco and Judy Carmona are looking to boost the community spirit in their Eastside neighborhood while providing a sustainable transportation option for tourists.
When the Cherry Street Bicycle Co-Op opens its doors on March 1, 2017, they hope to offer low-cost bikes to locals and visitors of all ages. They plan on refurbishing and re-selling bicycles and renting them out, offering classes, organizing community rides, and opening their home as a “bed, bike, and breakfast.”
Originally from Odessa, Texas, the couple began riding and making bikes for their children when they moved into their Eastside home seven years ago. What started with a few bikes quickly snowballed into a popular neighborhood operation. Marco estimates that they’ve built and given away about 50 bikes for children living in their neighborhood. There are more waiting in storage when the Cherry Street shop is ready.
Marco and Judy have started an Indiegogo campaign to help with fundraising the co-op’s launch. Regardless of how much money comes in, they’re committed to opening up shop.
“We could get no money and we’d still do it,” Judy said. Once Cherry Street Co-Op launches, the couple’s next plans include a grocery co-op and a fitness co-op.
Their main motivation comes from the simple belief that everyone should have access to the recreational and transportation benefits of riding a bike.
“(New) bikes are really expensive,” he said. “Once (people) caught wind that we were giving bikes away, (they) started giving their bikes to us. Now we turn down bikes.”
Their family’s first surrey bike, a five-passenger bicycle that they had been eyeing for years, was further inspiration for the co-op.
“That brought us so much joy that we said, ‘Other families need to buy this (too),'” he said. “But it’s a $5,000 bike.” The Cherry Street’s surrey bike is called the Cherryot and sells for $550.
“And we do it with 100% repurposed material,” Marco added.
Members of the co-op will have access to a variety of bicycles. The membership is $60 a year with discounts for seniors, veterans, and others available. Those who can’t afford the annual fees will have the option of “paying their dues” in the form of gardening, keeping bees, or volunteering for community work.
“We just want more people to support it, be a part of it, and let it grow,” Marco explained. He hopes to expand into other neighborhoods so that more people, especially those in low-income communities, can benefit from having access to bicycles. In time, they also hope to have a fleet of special needs bikes.
“The ones that are the most underutilized are the bikes for special needs children. If a family is lucky enough to spend thousands of dollars on a special needs bike, the kid outgrows it pretty soon and it sits in a garage. Once the club has its own, then you can use it whenever you want.”
The same goes for adults with disabilities.
“We have a neighbor who’s in a wheelchair,” Judy said. The man always said he could never ride. “(Marco) put him on the back of a petti-cab and the guy had the time of his life.”
Cherry Street will offer classes and scheduled rides so that people can learn how to repair their bikes while exploring San Antonio. The Missions, the Pearl, and downtown are all within a 10 minute ride from the Eastside house.
Judy is looking forward to starting a Sunday morning community ride going. “Bike church,” she calls it. They got the idea when a group of people got together to ride to Frank, the restaurant housed in a refurbished Southtown church.
A large part of their business model relies on renting bicycles to tourists.
“We ride around downtown and talk to tourists a lot. And over the years, especially if we ride our surrey or something that isn’t an ordinary two-wheel bicycle, we get a lot of attention and a lot of questions,” Judy said. “I feel like that’s a guarantee of sustainability – the fact that everyone has been very interested in what we’re doing.”
Eventually they plan to open a so-called bed, bike, and breakfast.
“You get a bed, you get a bike, and an organic breakfast for your family,” Marco explained.
The Carmonas may have turned their hobby and passion into what they believe will be a successful business model, but the true motivation for starting the co-op was their community.
They said they took a gamble when they bought their house in a neighborhood with high crime rates, but they fell in love with the community around them and have been enjoying the benefits of the recent public and private developments in the area.
“Even if it stopped developing the way it is right now, we love our community and we love our neighbors,” Judy said.
Top image: Judy and Marco Carmona ride their surrey bike with their son. Photo by Scott Ball.