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Amid relocation, Gate City Bike Co-op moves forward

NASHUA – Last year, the Gate City Bike Co-op’s future was uncertain because officials at the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter announced plans to convert the co-op’s workshop into a multimillion-dollar homeless shelter to meet the needs of the community.

With a limited amount of time to find a new facility to continue their charitable work, co-op officials spent many months searching the city for a new home. To the co-op’s relief, an anonymous individual came forward with a generous offer to cover rent, electricity and heating costs associated with a new secondary location at 17B Airport Road, which is off Amherst Street. Co-op volunteer Tony Attardo said this new facility was once a machine shop.

However, the new location is far from the original home at 35 Spring St. (the former Sacred Heart School building), and offers less space. Therefore, co-founders Don Pare and John Burkitt are still working to locate and secure a permanent downtown facility to continue offering their services directly to those who find themselves down on their luck and need a bicycle.

“In Nashua, you do not have to steal a bike,” Pare said. “If you need a bike, come over and get one.”

Pare said if someone really cannot afford a bicycle, he or she can get a voucher for one of theirs from the soup kitchen. The majority of the vouchers come through the soup kitchen, but they are also offered through a few other agencies.

Once an individual has a voucher, he or she may turn it in at the co-op in exchange for a bicycle. Once someone receives a bike, Attardo will make sure the serial number is placed on the voucher form, as well as the type of bike. Attardo also helps fit people with the right bike for them, ensures their helmets fit and shows them how to set bike locks.

He also encourages people to take pictures just in case the bike gets stolen.

However, aside from distributing nearly 1,000 bikes since the co-op’s August 2017 inception, organizers also offer their expertise in bicycle repair. Many of the clients they serve rely on these bikes as a means of transportation to and from work.

Officials admit that without this anonymous individual stepping up to help, the co-op may have had to put the brakes on their operation indefinitely.

For now, those at the co-op are able to continue. They still hope to find that new downtown space before the end of May because that is when the soup kitchen aims to have them vacate by in order to move forward with their multimillion-dollar shelter expansion project.

“The intent is, we’ll work in here from Tuesday through Saturday getting bikes ready and then on Monday, go to whatever space we’ve got available,” Burkitt said while at the Airport Road venue.

Pare said the co-op has the approval of the Rev. Michael Kerper of the Nashua Police Athletic League to use the Main Street entrance of the gym at Saint Patrick’s Church when strapped for space on a Monday.

“Right now, we’re not doing anything,” Burkitt said. “I’m hoping that sometime in the next two or three weeks, we’ll be able to open, if we can, in part of the old Alec’s Shoe store, and that will be for six weeks, maybe. Hopefully by then, it will be warm enough we can start using the front of the St. Pat’s (St. Patrick’s Church) community center, and they’ll see us probably through September.”

Until then, however, the co-op needs to find that primary location. Pare said the hope is most of the work can be done at the Airport Road location, while the main location to interact with the public would be downtown.

“This is not a good location for the clientele,” Pare said. “They need for us to be downtown.”

This is because many of the clients they serve are also utilizing some of the other services offered in the downtown area, such as shelters. Burkitt said once organizers secure regular Monday location, it will be used for distribution of bicycles, bike clinics and drop-in repairs.

“What’s going to happen next year, we don’t know, but what I’d like to see happen is for us to be downtown where we can repair bicycles on days in addition to Monday because bikes don’t just break down on Mondays,” Pare said.

Despite this new facility, co-op officials are still caught in a transitional phase. Burkitt said if they can get through the move and find a location downtown, they can get back on steady footing.

“Then, we can see if we can find a better long-term solution for downtown,” Burkitt said.

More information on the Gate City Bike Co-op can be found online at, https://gatecitybikecoop.org/.

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.

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