Three years ago, Rich City RIDES was little more than a one-man show. Its founder, Najari Smith, would hang around the Richmond Greenway with various bike repair tools at hand and fix bikes for free.
“I just wanted to get to know people, to build a network in the city,” Smith explains.
Building connections was just the first step in Smith’s plan. In the years since his small Greenway beginnings, Rich City RIDES established itself as a nonprofit, found itself a home to set up shop, and blossomed into the city’s premier (and only) cooperative bike shop. Now, Smith has greater plans, and he’s calling on allies near and far to help.
“We’ve always been about more than just biking,” says Josue Hernandez, a partner of Smith’s at Rich City Rides. Hernandez is leading the charge to establish a skate shop along side the nonprofit’s bike shop.
“Rich city RIDES is about anything that gets you moving, whether it’s a bike, or a scooter, whatever has wheels and doesn’t run on gas,” explains Hernandez.
So Hernandez and Smith decided to branch out from bikes. Calling on an international network of support from Kiva Zip, a sort of Kickstarter for businesses loans, Smith raised $10,000 in two weeks to fund an expansion of the shop in mid August. Hernandez currently has a Kiva campaign of his own to fund supplies for the skate shop (feel free to pitch in whatever you can).
By tapping into the Kiva Zip network, Rich City RIDES and their skate shop expansion are able to keep their work collaborative and connected to the community.
“The community response has been great,” says Hernandez. “They love it. We even had someone come in here asking if he could donate helmets for skaters.”
To Smith, the skate shop expansion is just part of a broader goal guiding the alternative transportation-focused nonprofit.
“From here, we want to see people get healthy,” Smith explains. “Being able to get people healthy, wealthy, and wise by creating businesses, taking part in activities that improve their health, and making that wise choice to say that you don’t have to leave Richmond to make a difference, it’s powerful.”
Smith sees Rich City RIDES as a local business incubator, with the skate shop being the nonprofit’s biggest project yet. Beyond creating businesses that promote physical and mental health, he envisions bringing economic and civic health to Richmond.
“I envision using everything that we do with Rich City RIDES to develop this sense of civic pride; to be able to be proud of where you’re at, where you come from, and the work you’re doing right here.”
Rich City RIDES is also involved in the development of Unity Park, a collaboration between over a dozen community groups to build an open, welcoming set of twin parks along the Richmond Greenway. This holistic approach to urban health is nuanced, thoughtful, and would not be possible without support from the community.
“I want Rich City RIDES to serve as an inspiration for people to do more right here in Richmond,” says Smith. “You don’t have to go out to other cities, when we’re actually building things right here.”
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