Frame Building Co-operative, Chicago

I just spent a great 3 days in Chicago, where I visited Owen Lloyd at his workplace at Blue City Cycles retail shop at 3201 S.Halsted St.

Brompton in Chicago (thanks for the lend, George!)

Blue City Cycles.

A healthy display of Brooks saddles inside the shop.

The loading area of the building.

Restoration photographs framed on the wall inside the building.

Refurbishment pictures - the building was gutted inside first.

The building on the outside before the transformation.

Frame building workshop on the first floor.

Owen with a trusty Victor torch

Granite surface table - the beer can is strictly for scale. Good thing there's a goods lift as this is on the first floor.

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.

The Bubbly Dynamics Building

Old machines adorn the corridor..

Michael's bench.

A short production run of frames that Michael was making for a shop.

4130 cro-mo tubing which will become wishbone seatstay rear ends.

Anvil cantilever brake boss jig

A frame repair in progress

Diacro tubing bender

Garden viewed from roof

Another angle..

Michael’s reconditioned Smith torch
Fork blade bender
A pair of vintage high-flange hubs
A Henry James frame jig.

Anvil frame jig

On the green roof. The plants make a picture of the owner's baby which is visible on Google Earth.

View from the roof

A bench in the shop

Another bench in the workshop

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.

Uvay's metal fabrication and powder coating shop on the ground floor.

Thanks for putting me up when I came back through Chicago for New York Michael.
Best wishes to all the Bubbly folk.

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