Kersey native Monica Pasquinelli is sharing her enthusiasm for bicycles and cycling with the City of Brotherly Love as a bicycle shop owner and mechanic.
"Cycling in Philadelphia has grown a lot since I moved here 15 years ago," Pasquinelli said. "It's become more recognized as a great alternative to cars and public transportation. The city has a lot more bicycle advocacy groups and is developing more bike lanes and paths, and promoting education and rights for commuters."
Now the co-owner of Firehouse Bicycles, a bicycle sales and repair shop located on the second floor of an old firehouse in west Philadelphia, Pasquinelli said when she first moved to the city, she was doing social work in the city's shelter systems, but an unfortunate event caused her to begin pedaling toward her current position.
"In 1998, my car got stolen," Pasquinelli said. "At the time, it was upsetting. I think back on it now as almost a blessing because that's when I started to use my bicycle as a way to commute around the city, and eventually in other cities and countries that I traveled to."
A few years later, still living in Philadelphia, Pasquinelli began working as a bicycle messenger and fell in love with cycling. Because of the demands heavy cycling can put on equipment, she had to learn to work on her own bike.
"That next year, my friends and I decided to open a bicycle co-op called the Bicycle Church," Pasquinelli said. "The Bicycle Church was, and still is, located in the basement of a church in west Philadelphia. It works harmoniously with a children's nonprofit bicycle program called Neighborhood Bike Works."
She explained that Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW) is an educational organization that seeks to increase opportunities for urban youth in Philadelphia by offering educational, recreational and career-building opportunities through cycling. The Bicycle Church is an adult program that offers a space, tools and parts for adults to learn to work on their own bicycles, and the donations from this co-op program have always been used to help fund the programs of NBW.
Pasqinelli said the volunteer work spurred her to continue pursuing her love of cycling and helped lead her to her role as bike shop owner. In 2000, she opened Firehouse Bicycles with a partner. The shop sells new and refurbished bicycles, new and used parts and does all sorts of repairs for bicycle users in a residential neighborhood near the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.
"Our customers are a wide variety of people who use their bicycles for multiple reasons. Some commute, some exercise, some work on their bicycles, some play and some simply cruise around the neighborhood," Pasquinelli said.
Eleven years after opening the shop, she said it is still a joy to go to work every day.
"I'm an owner and have all the responsibilities that go along with that, but firstly, I'm a mechanic and bicycle enthusiast. I can honestly say that I love my job. I enjoy getting to know my customers and being a fixture my neighborhood. I hear the kids refer to me as the 'bike lady.' It makes me laugh," Pasquinelli said.
"I've enjoyed all the talented people I've gotten to work with and learn from through the years. We're like a family. After some years of building the shop and getting established, we've been able to continue to work with the Neighborhood Bike Works and Bicycle Church, by making donations every year, hosting workshops for the kids at the shop and even providing employment for some of the graduates."
Pasquinelli grew up in Kersey with her mother and stepfather, Joan and Donald Herbstritt; her sisters Jacinda Huffman and Bridget Straub; and her brother, Jesse Herbstritt, who all live in Kersey and St. Marys with their families. Her father and stepmother, Brent and Cynthia Pasquinelli, and her brother, David Pasquinelli, reside in State College.
She attended St. Boniface School in Kersey until sixth grade, then attended St. Marys Area Middle and High schools, graduating in 1995. She moved on to higher education at The Pennsylvania State University's main campus in University Park, where she focused on arts classes. Desire to see more of the world, however, had her migrating to her current home.
"I was anxious to live in a bigger city and travel, so in 1996 I moved to Philadelphia. I thought I'd only stay here for a year, but I've been here ever since," Pasquinelli said.
She attended Temple University for a semester, then spent some years traveling, with Philadelphia remaining her home base.
"I traveled all over the U.S., passing through and stopping in almost every state besides Hawaii," Pasquinelli said. "Through the years, I've traveled to Mexico a number of times, Europe and Costa Rica. I consider a lot of the traveling part of my life education."
Even though she's now an urbanite, Pasquinelli said she makes it home to Elk County a few times a year and still appreciates the area.
"Even though I'm really rooted in Philadelphia now, I can't shake my real roots. I love visiting my family and breathing the fresh air and taking in the slower pace," Pasquinelli said.
She also enjoys passing her legacy on to her younger relatives when she returns to visit.
"My niece and nephews have all started riding bikes in the last couple years. In fact, after a visit to the shop a couple weeks ago, my nephew Blake got back to St. Marys and took his training wheels off! It makes me so happy to see the big smiles on their faces," Pasquinelli said.
"Such a big part of my childhood was on my bike, riding through the neighborhood, making BMX racetracks in the woods and delivering The Daily Press."