MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Local resident James Callaway is the “Bicycle King.”
He hasn’t come across a two-wheeled ride that he couldn’t make good as new.
“They haven’t made one that I can’t fix,” said Callaway. “I have been interested in bikes all my life — riding them and repairing them. As soon as I got off work each day, I would have people bringing me bikes to fix for their family members.”
The Harrisburg native and retiree of the now-closed neighborhood elementary school is manager of the local nonprofit, (located at 240 Harrisburg Road) the Co-op de Ville.
The Co-op de Ville is a community cooperative that helps the under-served obtain and maintain bikes. Located in the historic African-American community of Harrisburg, the workshop is housed in an equally historic venue of the old Do Drop Inn nightclub.
The co-op was founded by members of Bike Walk Baldwin (BWB), a 501(c)3 organization that works to make Milledgeville and Baldwin County a better place to bike, walk and run. Three years ago, the BWB saw the need to create a place where lower-income residents could purchase a bike for transportation or get one repaired — both at reasonable pricing.
“We take donated bikes, no matter what shape they are in, and either prepare them for resale or use their parts for repair,” said Tom Glover of BWB. “Then, the repaired bikes are sold at a lower cost, mainly to provide transportation for those not having means to travel. We also repair bikes at a reasonable charge.”
Glover said that lack of transportation is a barrier to employment that can be removed through bike ownership. All profits made from bike sales and the repair service go directly back into running the co-op, including paying the salary of the manager who is also the bike repair expert.
“We have to pay our bills, and every single dime we make goes back into running the co-op. Summer is a great time to clean out your shed or garage and make donations. We will gladly accept any bike donation as well as monetary gifts,” said Glover.
Callaway is a skilled mechanic who enjoys his work and the good it generates throughout his community. He said he was thrilled when he first learned of the nonprofit opening in the neighborhood and the new use of the nightclub building. He believes it can only improve the lives of the residents of Harrisburg by providing a service that is not widely offered.
“Everybody in the neighborhood thinks it’s a great place. I also love to teach others how to repair their own bikes. I don’t mind kids hanging out here and learning how to make their own repairs,” said Callaway. “I love this work and helping others in my community.”
Glover and the BWB board knew in the beginning that they needed to honor the historic musical past of the building in which the co-op inhabited. The Do Drop Inn was one of the thousands of small performance venues on the “Chitlin Circuit” — located throughout the eastern, southern, and upper Midwest — that hosted African-American musicians, comedians, and other entertainers during the era of racial segregation.
The name “Chitlin Circuit” derives from the popular soul food item chitterlings (pig intestines). The circuit was considered by, for, and about black people. In Georgia, and more locally in Milledgeville’s own circuit establishment — the Do Drop Inn — legendary natives made the rounds including Macon’s own Little Richard and Otis Redding, and Augusta son James Brown.
“I spent many nights here myself,” said Callaway, who was witness to several of those legendary performances. “It was a place where all the adults from the community would gather and enjoy music, dancing, and food. The night always ended with good food after all those hours of dancing.”
BWB board member and Georgia College professor, Dr. Jim Lidstone, helped secure the services of GC art students to paint murals inside the building celebrating the musical legends that once performed within its walls-Redding, Richard, and Brown. Glover said he knew the students would do a wonderful job because of the murals they created previously for the outside of the building that has a cycling and community theme.
“It is always good for our students to get involved in the community and this was an incredible project to take part in creating a visible tribute to the rich musical heritage of the site,” said Lidstone. “As for the co-op, I love to see bikes that are unused being recycled and this work benefits the community financially by providing bikes for transportation, and there’s a health benefit of exercise as well.”
For more information on the Co-op de Ville and to donate to the cause or get a bike repaired call 478 387-0671 or visit their Facebook page @bwbCoOp. Hours of operation for the shop, located at 240 Harrisburg Road, is Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.