This article first appeared in the May 2011 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.


Wheels for the World: A local nonprofit is serving the community – one bicycle at a time. 

by Kristine Hansen

The Milwaukee Bicycle Collective has a simple goal: “to flood the streets with bikes.”

Founded in 2002 by Ian Fritz, the collective has passed through many hands since. Jim Tarantino, a 27-year-old urban planner, took over in 2007. But its mission has never changed.

“It’s our belief that every neighborhood in the city can support a shop like this,” says Tarantino. “The solutions to Milwaukee’s transit problems are obvious and tangible.”

Entirely run by volunteers, the nonprofit collective is the only one of its kind in town. Some use the space to get access to tools and directions on how to do repairs. Others volunteer. Through 12 hours of “sweat equity,” anything from helping with repairs to doing paperwork, a volunteer can receive a free bike – each work hour is worth $8. Last year, more than 150 people – adults and children – earned one. (Kids under 6 need not work to get a bike for free.)

Almost everything in this small Merrill Park shop (near Clybourn and 29th) is donated. Bikes, in various states of repair, are strewn in every corner. Handlebars, rims, seats and other items sit in piles, separated by category. “All of this stuff would have been junk,”  Tarantino says. “You realize how much we are a throwaway culture.”

Even the space, phone service and Internet connection is donated by Ian’s father, Tom Fritz, who runs a photography studio downstairs. “Bicycles are a great form of transportation as well as recreation,” says Tom. “Getting discarded bicycles fixed up and back on the road is a great thing to do.”

Last year, the collective trained some Highland Community School fourth-graders. “Our students – many of whom had never learned to ride a bicycle – had the opportunity to learn the basics of bike mechanics and repair,” says Barry Weber, school enrichment coordinator. “These workshops culminated with a school bike ride. Our students joined their parents, teachers and collective members on the Hank Aaron Trail.”

The students, Weber says, loved it.

Finders Keepers: Sometimes, one man’s trash really is another man’s treasure.

by Ellen M. Kozak

It starts simply enough. You’re driving along and notice something sitting on the curb – a discarded toy, a couch, maybe even an intriguing, antique-looking dresser. You stop, check it out, and – if it’s in reasonably good shape – lug it into your car.

The practice is known by various names, from the derogatory “dumpster diving” to the British “shopping the verge.” Everybody does it at some time, because the find is just too good.

“It’s good for the environment – it’s a kind of recycling,” says Suzanne Fish, a longtime Milwaukee practitioner. One of her most memorable finds was a “neat old dollhouse” made of 1940s fruit crate ends and cigar boxes. She even remembers where – 94th Street.

Areas around college campuses – be it UW-Madison or UW-Milwaukee – are treasure troves for pickers, especially toward the end of the summer when student leases expire. Milwaukee’s North Shore has a similar reputation (though you have to strike fast). And just across the border, Highland Park, Ill., with its annual “Spring Clean-Up” in May, is known as a gold mine for gleaners.

There’s no telling what you’ll find sitting on a curb. Alice Kehoe, a retired professor, has picked up bookcases, cupboards, a metal radiator cover that matched one she already owned, “a nice hostess cart that holds my plants,” and books of all kinds. Others report finding a full set of rattan furniture, a small kitchen table with a tile top, couches, love seats, an automated watering dish for cats, all manner of exercise equipment and even the occasional kitchen sink.

In 2003, Kehoe rented her house out to a documentary team during the Harley-Davidson 100th anniversary. They required five bedrooms, each with a bed, desk, chair, dresser and lamp. While she had the five bedrooms, some lacked the specified furnishings. But since she lives in the UWM area, she merely cruised the neighborhood as the students moved out and found what she needed piled on curbs. Trash turned into treasure. n