Ya can’t fight City Hall.
When we last spoke with Bobby Russell, half of the duo running Brother Moto, the shop was at odds with Atlanta’s Zoning Department. The city ended up winning that fight, which left Russell and his business partner Jared Erikson looking for a new space.
The issue originally arose because Brother Moto was classified as a repair shop by the city and according to zoning laws in East Atlanta they wouldn't be able to continue operating in their original location. Brother Moto's position was that it isn’t a repair shop at all.
Like businesses we've seen pop up in other cities, where many residents may not have their own garage space, Brother Moto is a community space where you can consult with other mechanics, borrow tools, or rent a lift as long as you perform the work yourself. There is also a retail space and an espresso bar where non-riders can consult with other riders over a cup of coffee and ask questions they might be too nervous to ask at a traditional dealership setting. All things considered, it’s a way to better integrate motorcycles into the surrounding community.
The city of Atlanta, however, disagreed. Ruling that Brother Moto was one repair shop too many, the Zoning Department continued with its plan to have the small co-op evicted. Instead of wasting their efforts in a losing battle, Brother Moto took a different approach.
“We were going through this process with the petition to allow us to stay [in East Atlanta], and that kind of deteriorated,” Bobby told me over the phone. “We had really good people looking at it, lawyers were looking at it, and all of them were trying to figure out a way for us to stay. And we could have continued the fight, but at the end of the day we decided to take the high road and spend our energy, time, and money looking at a new spot.”
That “new spot” meant moving closer to downtown. Brother Moto now calls 670 Memorial Drive SE in the Cabbagetown district of the city home. It just took a little “wizardry” on the part of the lawyers to come up with a new classification for their business.
“Technically, and this is going to sound really ridiculous,” Bobby said with a laugh, “on paper, according to the city of Atlanta, we’re classified as a indoor motorcycle parking garage. This isn’t really the story we want to push out, but it seems to be the only way the city of Atlanta and the powers that be are comfortable with us being there while still doing everything we want to be doing.”
And there is no shortage of “doing” at Brother Moto. The new location nearly doubled their size from around 3,000 square feet to 6,000. They no longer have to lease additional space for their coffee bar or cram motorcycles on top of one another in the workshop. Instead, everything now sits under one roof, furthering the duo's vision for the space.
And that vision hasn’t faltered. According to Bobby their original mission statement of providing a location and resources for the “motocurious” to get their hands dirty is stronger than ever.
With this new space there is room to expand their retail efforts as well as the coffee shop. They see these two avenues as being paramount for exposing individuals to motorcycles in a uniquely inclusive atmosphere. They continue to hold community events and encourage all motorcyclists to utilize their space. And the community as a whole seems to be much more receptive in welcoming Brother Moto to their new home.
“I think at the end of the day, what it really comes down to is the neighborhood really wanting us there,” Bobby said.
With this new space, the partners are no longer focused on governmental bureaucracy and can instead focus on growing their business. In addition to the physical space, they have also expanded their web presence with a blog, “The Manual,” which they describe as an “honest portrayal of southern motorcycle culture,” featuring good rides around the city and the region and profiles of interesting people who stop by Brother Moto. It's a natural progression, since Bobby’s background is in photography and Jared’s is graphic design. They hope to develop it into a publication some day, as the business gets more established.
“As of this week we actually took our first paycheck from the company,” Bobby told me with a chuckle. “We started this in 2013, so for us to be like, well, it’s 2017 now, we’re probably in a good enough spot where we can take a very, very, very small salary.”
The partners still spend about 20 to 30 percent of their time working on outside projects to help pay the bills. Bobby works on photography and a variety of music projects while Jared freelances graphic design gigs. But all things considered, Bobby sounds hopeful.
“I think it definitely turned out to be a blessing in disguise," he said, of the zoning issues of the past. "It’s been a lot of work but we’re super excited about the future of things.”
Much like The Clash covering Bobby Fuller, Brother Moto fought the law, and the law won. But when the dust settled,the boys licked their wounds and ultimately found success in a new neighborhood that welcomed them. With this new space they can get back to building their business and riding motorcycles. Maybe the law wasn't the only one who won.