‘There are 10,000 bikes sold in Mercer County every year, and no one ever throws one away. They end up in cellars,” says Russ White. He is a retired publishing executive, avid biker, new business owner, and busy volunteer and board member, and he has come up with a plan to give those old bikes new life — and at the same time to raise substantial sums of money for the Boys and Girls Club of Trenton.
White is opening a second-hand bike shop, the Bike Exchange, on Saturday, May 2, in the Capitol Plaza shopping center, which is near the intersection of Route 206 (called Princeton Avenue at that point) and Olden Avenue in Trenton. Its address is 1500 North Olden Avenue. There is no phone yet, but one will soon be installed. The shop depends entirely on donations of old bikes of all kinds — children’s first two-wheelers, over-sized beach cruisers, hybrids, road bikes. Even tricylces are welcome contributions, and everyone who donates a bike will get a receipt, making them eligible for a tax break.
The first collection day at the new shop is Saturday, April 18. Another collection is slated for the following Saturday, April 25. But there is no need to wait even that long. Fast Signs on Route 1 South, in a strip mall just south of Mrs. G’s, is already collecting bikes from Monday through Friday, says White.
In addition, many bicycle stores in the area, including Jay’s Cycles on Nassau Street, have agreed to accept bicycles for the effort.
The store will be open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Thursday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m.. Its bikes will be repaired and then offered for sale for a fraction of their original retail price. White, who opened Firehouse Cycles in Yardley last year, developed the idea for the used bike shop while working in his new store. “There is no place to get rid of an old bike,” he says. “Bike shops would rather sell new bikes. At the same time, there are people who would like to buy a second-hand bike, but there’s no place to do that, other than Craig’s List.”
Craig’s List has its limitations. Buyers have to drive from place to place to check out the bikes, coordinating their schedules with those of the people selling the bikes. With a store, however, it is possible to see — and try out — many bikes at one time.
White had thought about some sort of a bicycle exchange for a long time. Then last year he read about Dream Bikes, a successful used bicycle program in Madison, Wisconsin, and decided that he would get started. Formerly an active volunteer with SCORE, the organization of retired executives that helps people start businesses, White knew all about business plans. No half-baked operation, his new used bicycle operation rests on a firm foundation.
“I turned to the Princeton Freewheelers (a group devoted to bicycling) and right away got 30 volunteers,” he says. “They are each going to work at the shop one Saturday a month. I also have four managers, an executive committee, and a chief financial officer.”
Finding space was more difficult than finding help. “I rode up and down Route 1 looking at signs, and no one would even talk to me,” says White. “Then I saw that two vacant stores in Capitol Plaza.” He contacted Levin, the commercial real estate company whose sign hung on them. “They couldn’t have been nicer,” he says. “They’re donating the space. We just have to pay utilities.”
White expects that the used bike store will raise $50,000 to $100,000 a year for the Boys and Girls Club. Overhead will be low, with volunteers supplying all of the labor and parts purchased wholesale. It will sell one basic — but safe — helmet and one basic type of lock. “We’re not in competition with the bike stores,” says White.
White’s own career as a bike store owner began with a self-arranged internship. “I worked as a mechanic and a salesman at Kopp’s for a year,” he says. This was after he had retired from publishing where he worked for a number of companies, including McGraw Hill.
White is a passionate bicyclist. He has to think for a second when asked about his most interesting ride. “Well, my wife and I have biked in France many times,” he says. “Actually, all over Europe. And in New Zealand.” But the very best rides took place on a different continent.
“There is nothing like biking in Vietnam,” he says. “That was the most interesting, partly because many of the villages can be reached only by bike. And the people are so friendly. They love Americans. One time we were biking through a village and we were invited right into a wedding.”
Counting on an equally open-hearted reception to his bicycle exchange charity, White is asking area residents to check their cellars, sheds, and garages for the cast off bikes that will give lots of their neighbors a crack at affordable bike ownership and will provide funds for the programs of the Boys and Girls Club.