Cherry Street Bicycle Co-op helps to revitalize East Side neighborhood

Marco Carmona and his wife Judy have been only to happy to have his front yard be a makeshift bicycle repair station for children in his near East Side neighborhood near the Alamodome.

He did not intend for it to be this way. Things started as a beloved private collection of bikes that the Carmonas set up on their property. They also had bikes crafted to accommodate family members who have special needs or who are disabled.

But seeing how bicycle-friendly Carmona and his family are, neighbors could not help but see it be an oasis of sorts. Now, Carmona is leading an effort to raise funds for the Cherry Street Bicycle Co-op from a clubhouse in the same neighborhood. It'd be a place where anyone can borrow or share a bike, repair and even build bikes.

"It really grew as a grassroots effort from my front yard," said Carmona, who delivers organic foods to local grocery stores. "The kids in the neighborhood saw how much we were bike enthusiasts."

Carmona recalled that, early on, when children would use his yard for cycling breaks, he'd just put out some wrenches, pumps and tubes for the young visitors.

 



Neighbors such as Tom Marino caught onto what was happening and wanted to help. The real estate investor sold a 1,000-square-foot house at 132 Cherry St. to the Carmonas, who are turning it into a co-operative clubhouse for the community.

The clubhouse will not open to the public until about March, Carmona said. Meanwhile, Carmona is running an Indiegogo campaign for anyone to contribute toward the addition of 1,900 square feet at the house, and outfitting the structure. In return, donors can become members with access to a growing bike fleet.

The clubhouse, run by volunteering residents, would act like a library. Residents could borrow or share a bike of any size or shape or capability, including tricycles, large multi-passenger bikes and special needs bikes.

Tools would be available for repairs. Cyclists could also grab a healthy snack for their ride. Architect Alan Neff, who lives on the East Side, is lending his talents to help improve the look of the clubhouse property.

"'The property is pretty magnificent," Carmona said. "(Marino) just felt it was being underutilized."

Carmona said the co-op/clubhouse will further the idea of helping area residents of all ages to be healthier and to be more mobile, better connecting them with downtown San Antonio.

He also indicated that there are more planned group bike rides. One ride that occasionally happens for Carmona and his neighbors are those that traverse East Side cemeteries.

Some cyclists point out the final resting places of loved ones, sharing their family history with neighbors.

They also have a Dia de los Muertos-themed bike ride planned. Additionally, neighborhood residents take part in "bike church," cycling together from the neighborhood to Pharm Table, the downtown eatery that strives to educate healthy eating through a nutritious, vegan menu.

But Carmona and his neighbors have a bigger, long-term vision. He hopes the bike co-op will serve as a springboard toward a transportation and healthy food co-op for the neighborhood.

That way, all community members - including the elderly, disabled, special needs, young children - can be encouraged toward physical fitness by bicycling around the neighborhood, getting to school, work and errands in that manner.

Plus, the more people bicycling means less reliance on private transportation or mass transit, helping the decrease the pollution from vehicles. Additionally, the Carmonas and some neighbors have gotten into urban farming. They help to educate others, particularly youngsters in the community, on the benefits of growing food and developing healthy eating habits.

"We want to lead by example and be good to the earth," he said. "We take a holistic approach to building the community."

Other area stakeholders such as Alamo Beer Co. founder Eugene Simor are getting into the act. Carmona has another property on Cherry Street. He and neighbors hope to use that to broaden efforts, such as the bike co-op, into something that fully revitalizes the near East Side.

"We have an opportunity to make Cherry Street a destination," he added.

**Cover Image and video courtesy of Cherry Street Biciycle Co-Op.