Community space and repair shop Bike Kitchen in financial trouble

For 22 years, the UBC Bike Kitchen has served the community as a bike shop, a gathering space and a budget-friendly resource for students looking for eco-friendly transportation. Now it faces mounting financial challenges compounded by COVID-19 and a lack of student-driven revenue.

Unlike any other AMS clubs, the Bike Kitchen is a hybrid organization acting as the AMS bike co-op with space providing public-facing services to the community. These services include break/fix and upgrade bike services, retail sales and advocacy.

“Our busy season is typically August, September and October,” said Alex Ariza, the shop manager of the Bike Kitchen. "Within those three months, we make about a quarter of our yearly revenue."

That revenue will likely not be seen this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although financial troubles started many years before.

In 2016, the Bike Kitchen and its crew operated out of a portable trailer, sometimes without power or water.

Difficulties continued after the Bike Kitchen's move to its current location.

“Construction fences were erected around us, and construction workers were not letting people come into the store, though we were still operating and paying staff ... So we started losing money right away as the moving stuff started happening,” Ariza added.

AMS VP Finance Lucia Liang said that the Bike Kitchen has been running deficits annually, and the shop has applied for loans every year since it moved into the Nest. She noted that giving loans to clubs does not happen frequently.

The Bike Kitchen is funded partly on a fee of $1.12 a year, approved by student referendum. Liang said that this fee isn’t enough for the bike repair shop to cover its entire operation.

Liang said due to her mandate to promote affordability for students, she wouldn’t “encourage” the Bike Kitchen to run a referendum to increase its fee.

“But if they do decide to run a referendum, and they can gather the support and pass a referendum, the AMS is here to facilitate that portion,” she said.

A ‘valuable’ space

Despite its financial troubles and challenges, reopening during the pandemic, morale with staff remains high. "People seem to be happy to be back at work,” said Ariza.

Commenters on Reddit expressed worry about the financial troubles, emphasizing the importance of the Bike Kitchen to different communities.

"The Bike Kitchen offers such a nice and chill space for everyone, particularly queer people, and it would be a tragedy if they went out of operation," commented redditor lf_1.

Another commenter wrote that the team has taught them “everything” they know about bike maintenance.

“It's a comfortable space to learn about [bikes] (as a queer woman, other bike shops can be intimidating). One of my favourite services offered by the AMS, really valuable, and they're supporting [sic] of community activism also adds so much to that," macaronic-macaroni wrote.

Liang said the AMS is looking at longer term options for the Bike Kitchen to pay off its deficits, so it doesn’t have the extra pressure to do so during the pandemic.

“We should establish a long-term plan that everyone's happy with, so that there's clear communication right now, in a document somewhere [which states] these are the deadlines of repayment, and these are the expectations and if these expectations aren't met, what's going to happen,” Liang said.