At the end of a block of shops in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood, high on the corner of a building with an orange shopfront, a Halloween skeleton rides a winged bicycle. Inside is a small secondhand bike shop, VéloCity Bicycle Cooperative. The quirky mascot feels like an extension of the personality of both Del Ray and manager Christian Myers, who helped set up the co-op six years ago, in Old Town. VéloCity (pronounced “velocity”) has been at the Del Ray location, 2111 Mount Vernon Ave., for four years.
You can find secondhand bikes and hard-to-find parts here. It’s also a place to volunteer and to do guided do-it-yourself repairs. Mechanic Russell Yim helps “up to 20 people a day” fix their bikes. He also preps donated bikes for resale. VéloCity, a nonprofit, covers costs by accepting donations of bicycles and parts, which it refurbishes and resells.
Myers, who once worked for 10 years as a bike messenger in the District, also envisions the shop as a vehicle for social work. Juveniles on probation can fulfill their community service here. Alternatively, young people simply looking for employment can get mechanic jobs with Alexandria’s program TeensWork. The shop, says Myers, is not just a place that won’t look down on you for not knowing how to fix a flat; it’s also a safe place for kids.
In the front window a high-end Eddy Merckx frame hangs above a vintage Radio Flyer scooter. Inside, wheels and frames hang from the ceiling, above the work area’s checkerboard utility flooring. Affixed to the wall opposite the tool bench is a large photo of Albert Einstein riding a bicycle.
“There is no typical customer,” says Myers who sees commuters, vintage-bicycle collectors and many others.
Del Ray local Edmund Barker, stopping by the shop, says he likes the prices of the secondhand bikes lined up out front. The bikes start at $100; a hybrid or fitness bike runs $200 to $300.
Barker, 74, says he’s “ready to buy a bike again.” He adds: “I get the feeling you’d probably get better advice [here] than you get in a big store.”
“People like a deal,” Myers says, adding that VéloCity’s customers know where their bikes have come from and that they’ve been thoroughly tuned up.
He notes that most of the businesses lining Del Ray’s small-town-Main-Street main drag are independently owned. Within a few blocks are (among others) the frame shop Artifacts, the dusty and eccentric Comic & Card Collectorama, farm-to-table cafe Bon Vivant and the Dairy Godmother, which serves frozen custard.
A block from VéloCity, there’s a Capital Bikeshare station. Myers believes the service has drawn more people to cycling.
Yim, the mechanic, adds, “For a lot of people, this is definitely a social hub.”
For Lamont Williams, who was placed by TeensWork, it’s a lot more. Bicycling is “a way to get my legs stronger,” says the 16-year-old.
He’s turned a wrench at VéloCity — and been paid by the city of Alexandria for it — for the past two years. “It’s really fun,” he says, “and I learn a lot of new things.”