Wandering Eye: A bicycle shop/cafe opening soon?, hiring former prisoners for government jobs, and more

Back in 2011, shortly after she returned to her native Baltimore, mountain-biking champion Marla Streb told City Paper about her hopes to open a "bike-themed café," but her efforts to do so had been "a bumpy road." It looks like the path finally is smoothing out, with the Baltimore Board of Estimates (BOE) set to approve tomorrow a resolution supporting a Maryland Neighborhood BusinessWorks Program grant application that would provide $500,000 toward the $1,335,000 concept put forth by HandleBar Café/Niki Inc., the business Streb and her husband, Mark Fitzgerald, formed last year. As the BOE agenda describes it, the "business will feature both a fully functional urban lifestyle bicycle shop and a full service restaurant with a liquor license and coffee bar," and "will be the first bicycle shop/café business model in the state of Maryland." Slated for a vacant, 7,000-square-foot building at 511 S. Caroline St., the business is expected to create 15 jobs, and the top floor of the building will be "divided into office space and leased to like-minded businesses." (Van Smith)

 

The Atlantic steps up with an admonition for Massachusetts to use newly released ex-cons to dig out its snowed-under fire hydrants and the like—instead of the still-incarcerated criminals they have been using. The case is compelling: Former prisoners are often in desperate need of cash to pay for rent and food at precisely the time they're least likely to be offered straight, steady work in the private sector. The result is recidivism, and a cycle of incarceration that costs society $30,000-$40,000 per year and costs inmates their lives. The use of prison labor to dig out Boston streets would seem to be the worst kind of short-termism: "After all, the median wage in state prisons is 20 cents per hour. Those who have already paid their time, by contrast, would need to be paid the prevailing wage. And the union workers performing the same tasks are paid $30 an hour," Brusce Western and Linda Forman Naval write. "A regular government jobs program for formerly-incarcerated people could play a valuable role in maintaining public areas and infrastructure while assisting the transition from the prison to the community . . . Pay all these workers the prevailing wage, and they will be able to afford rent and other necessities for successful reentry. And set up a payment plan so that former prisoners can pay back their debts, such as fines owed to the courts, once they are back up on their feet." Sounds great—but wait . . . $30 an hour you say? That is close to double the median wage for all U.S. workers. That is so much money, many would consider doing a crime just for the prospect of getting paid that wage upon their release. Is it possible that the private job market has gotten so stingy that crime already pays better than (nongovernment) work? And if that is the case, what is The Atlantic's brilliant solution? (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

We were hard at work at our culturally relevant, authentically "alt" alt-weekly and missed this story at Motherboard from back in January about the end of Hipster Runoff, the insightful blog that astutely skewered many aspects of hipster culture and was a must-read from 2008-2012. Sorry we're so late, bb. The reporter talks on Gchat with Carlos Lopez, who for years maintained anonymity under the pen name Carles and used the mystery around his identity to build his "brand." He wrote "exclusively in an affected voice thick with irony, sarcasm, now-outdated IM lingo (hey bb), and an easily corruptible contempt for anything mainstream" and for years lampooned music festivals, journalists, and brands that capitalized on alternative culture in a way that now seems prescient. As the piece notes, the commodification of indie is now mainstream. Carles went into exile around 2013 after something of a breakdown that played out on the blog (via feeling the stress to create traffic) and resurfaced earlier this year to sell the site. This piece captures how great HRO really was, and shows that having a personal blog isn't what it used to be. (Brandon Weigel)

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