ROCHESTER — Justin McGill did not want to go down the same path taken by too many other kids in his Rochester neighborhood who were involved in smoking, drinking or being part of a gang.
“I think differently,” the senior at Vertus High School said. “I can see where that path takes you.”
So, when one of his teachers referred him to a new bike shop more than a year ago that was looking for students to hire, Justin decided to go for it.
Although shy and reserved, he did enough to prove himself to Paul Barrows and Eric LaClair, the manager and assistant manager, respectively, of DreamBikes on University Avenue. He has been working at the shop ever since, he said.
“It’s not just a job,” Justin noted. “It’s a learning experience.”
Lessons learned have included how to balance school and work, the mechanics of bike repair and the value of providing good customer service, he said. Additionally, he has experienced firsthand the benefits of hard work in school and on the job. He has been accepted at Monroe Community College and LeMoyne College, where he plans to attend and study engineering.
“I’m the first one in my family to go to college,” McGill said. “It feels good to make a change.”
DreamBikes’ mission is to provide young people with the experience and life skills to build successful futures, Barrows said. He and LaClair also help their five employees with college and scholarship applications, he noted. Three youth volunteers, who are too young to get jobs, also assist at the shop as a way to gain work experience, Barrows said.
The DreamBikes concept was developed in Wisconsin a decade ago by bike manufacturers to be a nonprofit bike shop and community revitalizer, according to information at http://bit.ly/2DSFCte. DreamBikes hires and trains teens in disadvantaged neighborhoods to repair and sell donated used bikes, and has refurbished and returned to use more than 10,000 used bikes, according to the website.
Barrows is friends with one of the DreamBikes organization’s board members, who is originally from Rochester and wanted to bring DreamBikes here, he said. Barrows helped choose a location and picked LaClair, one of his son’s friends, to help manage the shop, Barrows added.
Rochester is now one of six DreamBikes sites, including three in Wisconsin and one in Knoxville, Tenn. The DreamBikes organization provides start-up grants from the proceeds of the Wisconsin shops in Madison and Milwaukee, Barrows said.
He chose the University Avenue location because of its proximity to several schools in the city, including East High School, School of the Arts, World of Inquiry School No. 58 and Vertus High School, which is a charter school. A bus stop also is located just steps away from the shop’s entrance.
DreamBikes purchased and renovated a former dance school in the fall of 2016 and opened about a year ago as a full-service bike shop providing repairs, tune-ups, parts and sales, Barrows said.
The shop provides not only jobs and community development, but keeps bikes affordable to encourage bicycling in young individuals and young families, he noted.
“A family can come in and buy two to three bikes for their kids,” Barrows added. “They leave with nice quality used bikes that have been inspected and are up to snuff vs. going to a box store and not getting as high quality.”
Bicycling definitely appeals to many people around his age in terms of health and its positive environmental aspect, said LaClair, 30. At the end of August 2017, the shop saw a huge influx of sales to area college students looking for an economical way to get around campus or around town, he added.
“Across all generations, though, biking is starting to make a resurgence,” he said.
If someone comes in and cannot afford a bike, DreamBikes will donate one if possible or make a referral to R Community Bikes on Hudson Avenue, which provides free bicycles, Barrows said.
Any bikes donated to DreamBikes that are not in good enough condition to fix and sell are recycled, which also teaches employees about environmental conservation, he said.
“We keep bikes out of landfills,” he said. “We recycle everything that comes in here.”
The metal is taken by a customer who sells it and donates half the proceeds to a local church. The shop partners with Mac II Auto to recycle old tires, and even old inner tubes have gone on to become key chains, purses and wallets through another partnership with a small local company, EvenOdd.
LaClair and Barrows continue to work on establishing community partnerships to promote biking and the shop. The pair speak at city schools and are in talks with students from a local university for a potential engineering project. LaClair also offers bike repair classes at the public library on Lyell Avenue.
As the shop grows its clientele and increases sales, Barrows said he hopes to hire more staff for the year-round operation. In the future, he would like to see DreamBikes expand to the west side of the city.
“For now, we are here,” he said. “And we love it here.”