Ashland's Standing Stone Brewing Co., already well-known for its commitment to environmental issues, has gone a step further and bought new bicycles for all employees who promise to ride them to work at least 45 days a year.
Bubbling with excitement, 17 workers Wednesday flocked to Ashland Bicycle Works and picked up their custom-fitted, 24-speed Kona bikes, emblazoned with the Stone's head badge, hops vines and the words "Standing Stone Commuter."
The group rode the blue bikes to work in a "bike parade," uniformly extolling Stone co-owners Alex and Danielle Amarotico, who invested more than $7,600 in the bikes for employees who have more than 1,000 hours on the job — and they will buy bikes next spring for another round of workers.
"It's very exciting. It's awesome to work for a company that's so interested in sustainability," said waitress Katie Nowacki. "I'm going to use it every day to get to work and college. Everyone should bike. It's kind of unnecessary to have a car unless you leave town."
The bikes will reduce the restaurant's carbon footprint by getting workers out of cars; enhance workers' health and fitness; and free up parking spaces for tourist-oriented Ashland.
"The employees went crazy over it, a real buzz in the air," Alex Amarotico said. "They will come to work more energized. It's great for morale. I think it will catch on (with other businesses). I hope so."
The bikes cost about $450 each and earn a state Business Energy Tax Credit of 35 percent, said Amarotico, adding that the city Traffic Commission agreed to eliminate a 15-minute parking space in front of the establishment to make room for a long bike rack.
"It's a good, quick-handling, fast-accelerating commuter bike," said Ashland Bicycle Works owner Tim Schurr. "It's a great program. It shows real proactivity and is a healthy alternative and green solution to downtown parking.
"You have less absenteeism and the bikes, after the tax credit, should pay for themselves (with saved gasoline) in two or three months," Schurr said, noting he plans to approach other employers about the program.
On the employees' side, they have to sign waivers of responsibility and refrain from using bikes when drinking. They also have to put down a $150 deposit, refundable when they fulfill minimum days of bike commuting.
"I'm really excited to get a new bike," said employee Gina Velando. "My old bike is at the end of its life. I'm going to ride it five days a week. It's hassle free. I won't have the headache of trying to find parking. I'll just zip in."
"It's simpler and, honestly, it's easier to ride a bike to work," said bartender Michael DuBois. "It's one of the coolest things any employer has ever done and it reduces our carbon footprint. We're all very excited."
City Councilman David Chapman, an avid bicyclist, called the program "fabulous" and noted that Amarotico is "goading people with his wallet."
Chapman said he'd support putting bike racks in a parking spot at either end of all downtown blocks to encourage human-powered transportation and make sure bikes don't end up chained on sidewalks.
Racks wouldn't eliminate parking spaces, he noted, but could be installed in present yellow zones — and the city could shrink many of its over-long spaces.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.