Member Interview: Gladys Bikes

“…progress comes down to us doing what we can to be more connected to the people around us…”

During this Women’s History Month, we spoke with Business for a Better Portland member, Leah Benson, owner of Gladys Bikes on NE Alberta Street. We asked Leah about finding her voice as a business owner.

“Gladys Bikes is a full-service bicycle repair and sales shop that specialized is helping you find the new bike of your dreams, finding the perfect saddle for your bike and offer approachable, affordable bicycle repair. We are a gender inclusive space, born out of a desire to create a shop that cares just as much about people as it does about bikes.”

And who is Gladys?

“Gladys (pronounced glad-iss) is actually the name of a bicycle that was owned and ridden by Frances E. Willard in the 1890s. Frances Willard was a turn of the century women's suffragist and feminist who taught herself how to ride a bike at the age of 53 as an example of women's capacity to do anything, at any point in their lifecycle. She believed that the simple act of riding a bicycle could help women gain confidence, claim their independence and be seen as equals to men in skill and ability. I believe the same to be true today.

Why did you decide to join Business for a Better Portland?

In the very early days of opening the shop, before we even had customers, I noticed that people suddenly began treated me differently. Suddenly people listened to what I had to say more, invited me to decision-making tables for the city, and were just generally more *aware* of my point of view. All of this came from simply adding the words "business owner" next to my name. This initially made me incredibly uncomfortable as I felt undeserving of suddenly being treated like somebody that was somehow more worthy of attention than others. However, after time I decided that if people were going to be listening to what I had to say more closely, then I damn well better be saying something that mattered. And this is where BBPDX comes in. This organization amplifies my voice as a business owner with the goal of pushing for positive changes for all our city's residents.

In your opinion, what is the value of BBPDX’s work?

There is so much power in collective action; we, as businesses and business owners, can all do more when we band together.

Beyond that, I like that we stand for a different way of doing business, one that appreciates people, our community and our environment just as much (if not more!) than we value our profits. I wanted to be a part of a business association that sought to translate our business success into success for our communities, rather than merely banding together to facilitate more financial gain for our businesses.

BBPDX works on a few focus areas including transportation, affordable housing and equitable access to capital. Which issue area most attracted you to BBPDX and why?

I think that many folks seem to expect that I'll say transportation because I own a bike shop, but the reality is that I care about issues that affect my community, my customers, my friends -- and all of BBPDX's focus areas matter. They're all interconnected, all vital to the good of our city.

What is your vision for how Portland can be “better”?

Rental pricing goes down. Unique small businesses dot the landscape, and thrive. There are more bike lanes. Light rail touches every corner of the city. There is more public art. We move towards a community-based policing model. We all read more poetry. There's fresh pizza on every corner. (That one might just be for me.)

Truth be told, I do not know that there is a perfect alchemy behind how Portland can become better. Instead, I think that progress comes down to us doing what we can to be more connected to the people around us, to deeply listen to one another, to care more about each other, to imagine new possibilities and to use our unique abilities and connections to roll up our sleeves and put in the work when our communities need more support.

— Leah Benson, Owner, Gladys Bikes

OperationsGladys Bikes