Monday, July 23, 2012

Success A La Whistle Stop Co-op Coffee and Bike Shop

It was June 21. Whistle Stop CoOp café and bike shop beside Othello Station was a hoppin’ full house. To think that half an hour before the party started, I was afraid no one would show up!

Our barista, Reese Kindle was a reincarnation of Lloyd Doss from “Sons of the Pioneers.” His friend, Ehran Fox, sounded like Joan Baez. Cheri Giducos from the UPS Store across the street belted out “I Will Always Love You” like Whitney Hueston herself. Kathya Alexander, our Whistle Stop Writers’ Workshop leader, told a couple riveting tales about growing up in the Arkansas during the Civil Rights Movement. It was like watching a movie. And there were more great musicians, story tellers, and even an amazing poet.

You may recognize June 21 as summer solstice, but here at Whistle Stop, and in fact across the Nation, it was “Dump the Pump Day”, promoted by the Sierra Club. So Whistle Stop teamed up with them to hold an open mic to kick off our “Live Free or Drive” campaign. Funded by a grant from Seattle Department of Sustainability and the Environment, “Live Free or Drive” enables Whistle Stop to give away free bikes and transit smart cards to income qualified people who want to commute by alternative transportation.

One customer told me that even if Whistle Stop never breaks even, we are never-the-less a big success. We adorn this corner in the Nation’s most multi-cultural neighborhood and build community by promoting bicycling and transit. A tiny voice crying out in a wilderness of cars, we are successful by reason of being what we are. A graduate student in architecture wrote a paper about Whistle Stop pointing out how much more environmentally friendly it was to recycle a trailer than to build something new. A PhD candidate in anthropology came by to interview us for her dissertation and agreed to run for the Board.

I didn’t know what to expect when we put a trailer on the vacant lot by the Othello light rail station. Likewise, I didn’t know what to expect when I put a sign on the corner kiosk: “FREE BIKES AND ORDA CARD - ASK AT WHISTLE STOP.” But let’s face it, it’s the unexpected coming into life that teaches us. As Charles De Bois once said, “The important thing is this: To be able to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”

The people who come in and apply for free bikes and ORCA cards are folks whose lot in life I would not have known otherwise. When I asked one of them, a soft spoken nice looking woman her address, she told me she had none. She is homeless. One gentleman told me his daily commute will be to a therapy center for people with AIDS. He wants the bike to improve his health.

After Mohamed Yussuf, Editor of Runta (Truth) the Somali newspaper, showed up at the Mosque with his new bike, several of his friends, including the Mullah, came to Whistle Stop next day to apply for free bikes. Previously they had believed that real Americans only drive cars. Unfortunately, it turned out a couple of them will have to learn to ride before we can give them bikes.

So following the wise counsel of Charles Du Bois, an old lady on a bike becomes an MC for a talent show, a turner of upside down somersaults in effort to promote a little side show called Whistle Stop Co-op. The next stunt I’m planning is to get a small Bob trailer and tow a sandwich board sign advertising Whistle Stop Co-op up and down Martin Luther King Way handing out flyers. All this might not save Whistle Stop, but this old lady has nothing much better to do than try.

What else is new at Whistle Stop? Besides coffee, beer and wine, Panini sandwiches, all day breakfast, and more. Whistle Stop now has ice cream bars. Doesn’t that sound yummy? Come by and try some.

Visit our website If you would like to help Whistle Stop create community through bicycling and transit, click on Democracy Works, then "donate." Also visit

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dogs of Fear Pursue Old Lady on a Bike

I wake up each morning feeling like a cyclist pursued by a pack of barking dogs, namely my own fears, doubts, and self-recriminations,. What a stupid idea to open a coffee and bike shop in a neighborhood where folks are friendly and nice but don’t have many dimes to rub together. What was I thinking to blithely throw away my family’s safety and security in the middle of the worst recession since the one I was born into back into back in1939? Yesterday we took $123.10 into the till (and that was a fairly good day) what with our daily overhead expenses totaling nearly $300. What do I know about business anyway, having spent nearly all my working life within the safe territory of dependable government employment?

I conceived this crazy idea after the closure of Kwik Cup Espresso, the only place where decaf espresso could be bought in my neighborhood. “A neighborhood is not really a neighborhood without a coffee shop,” I said.

My original business plan, developed in May of 2010, declared that we had no competition, other than from a few East African and Vietnamese deli’s and bakeries that wouldn’t think of serving decaf espresso, let alone cappocino’s, frothy flavored lattes, and all the rest.

During the year and a half it took to get a permit from the city, Starbucks opened inside Safeway across the street. By this time our basement was full of espresso machines, grinders, refrigerators, café tables, sinks, plumbing, etc.. It was too late to turn back.

On the very same day the trailer that would house our Whistle Stop Co-op coffee and bike shop was moved onto its lot beside Othello light rail station, I made up a stack of brochures and ran over to distribute them at the opening celebration of the new apartment building on the opposite corner. “I’m opening a coffee and bike shop across the street,” I proudly proclaimed to an attractive young woman as I thrust a brochure into her hand.

The woman stared at me not too cheerfully. “I’m going to open a coffee shop right here in this building,” she said.

And that she did. A few months after the Whistle Stop Grand Opening Celebration, there appeared across the street a much bigger, fancier coffee shop than Whistle Stop ever thought of being. The intersection of Martin Luther King Way and Othello Street has four corners. One contains a five acre vacant lot that had been planned for development but abandoned after the recession. The other three now have espresso coffee shops.

So here sits Whistle Stop Co-op today, a sweet, restful space to hang out in despite that it’s basically a slightly glorified single wide trailer landscaped all around with little native plants struggling to take root at a busy intersection.

The Buddhist philosophy I’ve been studying tells me not to run from the dogs of fear but to get off my bike and look at them. Face my fears. Have compassion for myself and for them

So I’m standing there trying to befriend the dogs of fear with every bone I can think of.

Applying for grants
Sending out the Whistle Stop Weekly to members and friends
Contacting groups that might like to meet here
Inviting people to join the co-op
Organizing neighborhood projects and clean ups
Holding meetings, events and workshops
Trying to improve and re-improve the Whistle Stop menu

We’re using Whistle Stop as a venue to further community building, peace and justice activities, and other good causes especially alternative transportation. In fact, Whistle Stop will soon receive a $7K grant from Climate Action Network to give out free bikes and Orca transit passes as well as help with planning commute trips, weather apparel advise,to reduce car usage.

Whistle Stop Co-op isn’t trying to make a profit. That’s against our Articles of Incorporation. We just want to break even and, if possible eventually pay back some of the huge investment my husband Dick and I made from our retirement savings. It doesn’t cost anything to join, but if we were ever to make profits those would be divided among the customers according to how much they had spent and the employees according to how much they worked.

Right now we have 529 members. If every member or friend bought one meal and/or latte per week, or had their bike fixed, we’d be able to make the $300 a day and Whistle Stop would still be here this time next year.

Or you could make a donation to Democracy Works which helps Whistle Stop provide free bikes for poor kids, support our community building and educational projects, etc. To find the donation button, go to and click on Democracy Works at the bottom of the page.

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