For the past 30 years, the nondescript building with a green door on the corner of Buffalo and Meadow Streets has been the home to Recycle Ithaca’s Bicycles, a community-run bike shop that provides mechanical assistance and sells affordable bikes.
But after three decades, local residents arrived at a shuttered building: Last week, staff were locked out of the building and the program had been suddenly shut down.
On Sept. 10, the board of the Southside Community Center — an organization focused on empowering Ithaca’s Black residents that oversees and partially funds the bike program — fired the director of RIBs, and on Sept. 14, the locks on the building were changed without the staff’s knowledge.
“The board feared that budget cuts due to COVID-19 would affect the Southside Community Center, so they preemptively fired all their employees,” said Nicholas Desystemizer, the now-former director of RIBs. The board also suspended all center programs for the foreseeable future.
The news of the shut down came as a shock to Desystemizer, who said that he was given only a 24-hour notice before his termination.
Under normal operations, the small shop is filled with tools, spare bike parts and volunteers who provide mechanical assistance. During open shop, people can walk in and use any of the tools or parts they need for bike repairs and learn how to fix their bike from volunteer mechanics.
Currently, no one is able to access any of the machinery in the shop, but volunteers are showing up during regular business hours and are bringing in their own tools and bike stands to work outside of the building.
“It was more of a show of support,” said Daniel Keough, a longtime RIBs volunteer. “Several people were able to get their bikes repaired on Tuesday.”
Despite the efforts of Desystemizer and the volunteers, running the shop without access to the building has proven difficult.
“We were using these tools, but of course now they’ve been amputated,” Desystemizer said, referencing how someone from the Southside Community Center removed the tools and put them inside the building after cutting off all their cables.
Recycle Ithaca’s Bicycles has long served as an accessible and sustainable bike shop for Ithaca residents — and its loss has been felt by community members and RIBs volunteers.
One of RIBs’ popular programs before it abruptly shut down was Earn-a-Bike, which allowed community members to work alongside the RIBs team to build a bike from donated parts and can take it home once it is completed.
“It was a time consuming process, but I never felt like it was taking too long because it was just so interesting and the end result came out really amazing,” said Talia Fishman ’22, who built a bike at RIBs over the summer.
Keough added that RIBs has contributed to sustainability initiatives, encouraging citizens to bike and reuse bicycle parts that would otherwise be thrown away.
Claire Dehm, a volunteer who relies on her bicycle as her main mode of transportation, appreciated how RIBs provided technical services for any resident who needed it. But her favorite aspect of working at the shop was how it created a community for bike enthusiasts and amateurs alike.
“Even though I knew nothing about bikes, it was a space where I could learn,” Fishman said. “The shutdown is such a big hit on the Ithaca community and the people that rely on the space.”
The future of RIBs is still unknown, but Desystemizer has reached out to the Southside Board, Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency and Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, hoping to keep the community bike program alive. In the meantime, RIBs is operating during its usual business hours outside the building.
“Just because someone from Southside Community Center decided to lock a door doesn’t mean the demand for repairing bikes has magically vanished,” Keough said.
Correction, Sept. 23, 10:28 p.m.: A previous version of this article inaccurately recounted what happened with RIBs’ tools after the building closed. The tools were not stolen, they were removed by a someone affiliated with the Southside Community Center. The article has since been updated to reflect this change.