Spokane Journal of Business

Pedal-party trolley rolls out

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Pedal-party trolley rolls out
-—Staff photo by Treva Lind
Spokane Party Trolley LLC owner Nina Kindem and pilot Devin Prewett take tours of up to 16 people through downtown Spokane.

A business venture called Spokane Party Trolley LLC has started rolling under the power of its 16-passenger, specialized bike in the shape of a trolley bar for groups touring downtown.

Since September, groups of between eight and 16 have rented the trolley bike for two-hour, pedal-pushing celebrations to mark birthdays, weddings, pub crawls, and business team-building sessions, says owner Nina Kindem.

"As long as the snow's not too deep, we run year-round," Kindem says. "If a car can roll through it, we can too. It's street legal."

She adds, "We booked a party for New Year's Eve, and it was a blast. I had a soft opening last fall, and we go rain or shine. The trolley has a covering, so you dress appropriately."

The Dutch-made cycle isn't motorized, fueled instead by people positioned on 10 pedal stations and steered by a pilot sitting at the front of the trolley. Other passengers can sit on five "slacker" seats with no pedals, and the trolley has space in the center for a person to stand and play host.

Devin Prewett, Spokane Party Trolley's sole employee other than Kindem, often serves as the pilot and guide on trips, and he also controls the brakes and runs the sound system. Kindem is sometimes the tour pilot, but she mainly runs the business's operations.

The trolley is stored and launches out of a garage at 17 W. Main, next door to Merlyn's comic-book shop. While laws prohibit alcohol from being served on the cycle, groups renting the trolley can bring other beverages, food, and music to share, Kindem says.

Groups also can select stops at three out of five downtown pubs that she has agreements with to serve tour members drink specials. They include O'Doherty's Irish Grille, Marquee Lounge, Bowl'z Bitez & Spiritz, Fast Eddies Bar & Grill, and Lucky's Irish Pub. The trolley participants wear wrist bands.

For trips Sunday through Thursday, the cost for a group with a minimum of eight people is $300 for a two-hour tour. To book on Fridays or Saturdays, the group cost is $340 for a two-hour tour.

"If you rent it, you tell me where you want to stop in advance," Kindem says. "You can select the music, or I always have music. The renter really gets to call the theme, but we can help."

She adds, "Devin is a DJ, so he has a lot of dance mixes and current music. I'm stuck in the '70s."

Customers can decorate the trolley, Kindem says, and she has incorporated party games. For corporate team-building sessions, she's had participants play "street bingo" with the trolley riders yelling out if they spot someone with a baby stroller, or a person walking a dog. Occasionally at a stop, the pilot might call out for participants to change their seats in a quick scramble, she adds.

Kindem says the trolley routes stay on flat, lesser-traveled downtown streets, mainly between Division and Monroe. The trolley doesn't go down major arterials, she says, adding, "All the routes we use provide ample places to pull over to avoid blocking traffic."

She says the question she gets asked most often is whether people can fall off the bike. "We tell them there's no falls, only pushovers. You're pretty stable on the bike."

The Spokane Party Trolley has a beer tap built into the trolley, Kindem says, but it's only offered for use on private property when the trolley is rented for private parties. The trolley also has a large oak barrel decoration at its front.

"We can only serve a keg on private property for private parties, then it would work as a private bar," she says. "We're thinking of offering it for special events and corporate events."

Kindem says that on occasion, she also can deliver the trolley on a trailer to areas outside of downtown for a custom-tour route.

"There's a fee to do that, and I have to pre-check the route," she adds. "Custom routes are certainly available. I have a North Side block party that's booked for a neighborhood."

Kindem has plans to expand with additional Spokane Party Trolley bikes to allow for "pedal races" and costume themes among rivals. She also plans to meet client requests for use of the cycle as a parade float.

"By this time next year, I'm hoping to have two more bikes for a total of three bikes," she says. "I'm hoping that as early as June or July of this year to have at least one other trolley, if there are enough bookings, so I can expand routes and offers."

She adds, "The trolley averages 4 miles an hour and can go as fast as 8 miles an hour. I'm hoping for Gonzaga University versus Whitworth pedal races at some point."

She says the tour groups sometimes challenge drivers in cars to race the trolley as they pull up next to them, as part of the fun. "They laugh and pass us by in seconds."

Kindem first heard about the pedal-powered group cycles from a friend who lives in Minneapolis. Within months, she secured a licensee arrangement with a business based in St. Paul, Minn., called PedalPub, and ordered the one cycle. Kindem declines to disclose the amount of that initial investment.

Other PedalPub licensees have operations in such cities as Denver, Salt Lake City, and San Diego.

"It took me all of three minutes to fall in love with the idea," Kindem says. "I heard about it in May and scraped up enough money to have one delivered Aug. 20."

To prepare for its September launch, the business's Facebook page jumped from two "likes" to over 200 in about two weeks, she says. "I had to hire someone right away."

She says the business has booked about 25 tours since starting, with some slowdown on days when the snow piled up. She expects to ramp up bookings significantly this spring. "We have the potential to do five rides a day, seven days a week."

"Based on the business model for places with party bikes, growth goes pretty quickly," she says. "I expect I'll need to hire a staff of part-timers, perhaps college students, but it depends on bookings. I have some sightseeing options, and I'm further developing that. I'm also working on starting a foodie tour with stops at a few restaurants."

She adds that when the trolley is parked in front of an establishment, "it's an instant commercial boost for any bar or restaurant. The business model is to promote local businesses."

Treva Lind
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