Back in December 2013, I got to chat (alongside another grad student) with Baltimore Bicycle Works, the city’s only worker-owned and operated bike shop. We touched on several issues relating specifically to worker-ownership, such as local resources available to worker co-ops (or, at times, the lack thereof), and difficulties cooperatives face in finding assistance with capital, tax, or legal issues. (Full disclosure, both students are current or former customers of the shop!)
In a worker-owned cooperative, workers share profits and own equal parts of the business. Worker co-ops are democratically-run workplaces where one worker equals one vote. For more information about worker-owned cooperatives and how they generally operate, click here.
Since BBW graciously allowed us an inside look at their shop and business model, we wanted to feature information about the business on our site. The shop, which currently has six members (workers), and one apprentice, is undoubtedly one of the city’s most visible and successful worker-owned businesses. The following profile, written by the cooperative, contains great tidbits they’d like to share about being a worker-owned co-op in Baltimore City! (Emphases are mine.)
(Also, please note that this blog is not involved in business promotion. Our goal in featuring local cooperatives is to offer insight into worker-owned business models, and raise awareness of cooperatives in general.)
On a related note, our blog is actively looking to profile local cooperatives and collectives, with an emphasis on educating residents about cooperative (or collaborative) business models, so please contact us with any ideas or interest. Thanks!
-Laura S., BaltoCommunityWealth webmaster and contributor.
Baltimore Bicycle Works has been a favorite resource for the city’s cycling community since it opened in December of 2008. This full-service shop offers new and used bikes, accessories, parts, and apparel. Their well-trained workers repair any and all types of bicycles, can build you a pair of custom wheels, service your mountain bike suspension, and make sure that your bicycle is tailor fit to your body and riding style.
BBW (as the shop’s name is sometimes shortened), prides itself on the interaction between customers and the shop’s worker-owners. The shop has created a space that is comfortable for new cyclists to ask questions and get themselves ready to ride. These interactions have certainly played some role in the increasing number of cyclists on Baltimore’s streets. The shop regularly hosts events to promote cycling including commuter workshops, maintenance classes, and community rides.
This deep commitment of the workers to their shared business, and to the community that supports it, is viewed as an outcome of their non-traditional structure. “We all have a say in the important decisions the business will make. Our democracy makes better decisions than any one of us could on our own.” says Josh, one of the founders of the cooperative. Alex another worker-owner adds,“We are personally invested in the health of our business. I think that our customers can tell we have a different relationship with them, and I think they appreciate it.”
BBW created its business structure and by-laws with advice from existing cooperatives locally and in other parts of the country. They hold a meeting every week to make business decisions and review the operation of the shop. Every January the cooperative holds an annual meeting to review its goals, provide an opportunity for worker reviews, and set new goals for the new year.
Meredith, another founding worker, sees great promise in the cooperative business model for Baltimore City. “We were helped greatly when starting out by Red Emma’s Bookstore and Coffee House [ a preexisting worker’s cooperative], and still rely on them for support and solidarity. I think we are getting to the point where we can help other organizations get going in the city. Part of being a cooperative is educating your community and promoting this model.”