Frame Building Co-operative, ChicagoPosted: May 2, 2011
I chatted with Owen about the frame building co-operative he is part of, situated in the wonderfully-named Bubbly Dynamics Building at 1048 West 37 Street. The surrounding Bridgeport area has suffered a decline as industry moved out of the city to greenfield sites and then overseas, although the commercial designation of the area means that residential speculators have not been able to move in and drive up the land value. Read the history on the website..!
We cycled to the workshop, which is within an old paint warehouse, built in 1910. The owner, John Edel, has totally transformed the building into several units, one of which now houses 7 frame builders in a fully-equipped shared workshop.
- Michael’s reconditioned Smith torch
Owen moved into the workshop after completing a frame building course at United Bicycle Institute, Portland Oregon about 5 years ago. Most of the frame builders work part-time, although some, including Michael Catano, who I had the pleasure of meeting, work there all week. Michael was working on a small production run of frames for a retail shop.
I asked Owen what the benefits of the co-operative were, and he told me:
1. Cheap rent – The building owner only charged each tenant of the workshop their share of the rent, even before all the other places were filled, enabling each person to get on with their craft straight away without having to find others to pay the remainder of the rent.
2. Shared tooling – This has saved a great deal of money and space within the workshop. Only the larger tools/fixtures are shared, whereas hand tools and smaller items are used only by their respective owners.
3. Shared knowledge – Each person can help fill gaps in the knowledge of others.
4. Shared contacts – If a certain skill, tool, material or service is required, other tenants can often recommend a suitable person or company.
5. Increased “word of mouth” promotion of the frame building activity to the local and internet market.
When I asked Owen about the disadvantages, he mentioned:
1. Sometimes, although not often, personalities can clash.
2. Occasionally shared tooling can be damaged.
Owen explained how the building owner is very supportive to the craft, and sympathetic to the ideals and benefits that cycling and local manufacture bring to the community.