Common ground: Small businesses find shared space brings strength in numbers
By Christy Scannell
As San Diego continues to develop as a high-tech haven — and downsized employees of all ranks seek to reinvent themselves — small businesses have become the norm here. According to the city’s Department of Economic Development, San Diego is home to more than 70,000 small businesses – 92 percent of the total business community.
But doing business in sunny Southern California comes at a price, especially when it comes to office space. For small businesses, that means getting creative and looking for places that are conducive to work but easier on the wallet. The answer? Shared space, also called “co-working.”
Co-working is a concept Jason Harper embraces at the Hive, his 6,000-square-foot loft-style building in East Village. Since opening in 2009, he has welcomed designers who just need a desk for a day, advertising companies who need inspirational space for photo shoots and architects looking for a longer-term office area.
“It’s a very flexible office space where a bunch of young, talented creatives can come together and work,” Harper said.
Starting at $85 per month for any 10 days of space, the Hive offers everything from desks in the open area to semi-private offices and conference tables. Everyone shares the kitchen – and it’s not unusual for them to share clients as well.
“It’s almost like a melting pot of ideas and innovation, spring boarding ideas off each other,” Harper said about the interaction. “I tell everybody you’re not coming here for a desk – you can get a desk at your house – you’re coming here for the community, the support. There are 40 or 50 people here who have been through the same challenges and can help you.”
Rose Kaiser has housed her Method Marketing team of four at the Hive since late 2009. She said the collaborative spirit of Hive occupants is what attracted her to the workspace.
“If we had our own office there would be just four of us. Here, we get ideas off of each other and network,” she said. “It’s been a great way to build our business.”
Although the Hive’s open environment has spawned numerous joint projects among small businesses using the space, Harper said the atmosphere isn’t for everyone.
“I won’t turn anybody away from the door but I’ll be honest about what the space is about,” he said. “For example, a call-out company that does sales – the Hive wouldn’t be in their best interest.”
But with an 80 to 85 percent occupancy rate, the Hive and its nearby sister space, Hive 241, are proving that small businesses are willing to give up some privacy in exchange for the professional and social benefits a shared space offers. Harper, who previously owned a media and branding company, said he was “taking a chance” when he opened the Hive but he’s starting to see that his hunch was right.
“What I really wanted to see out of the space was the collaboration. I enjoy seeing people actually achieving and growing and seeing how the Hive is helping them grow,” he said. “San Diego has amazing talent but we really need to come together as a community and share ideas.”
Park Boulevard Artworks
Back in 2000, when Michael Borrelli, owner of Borrelli Design and Cabinetry, spotted the former Superior Fabric warehouse for sale in University Heights, he knew that was the place he’d been looking for. Twenty years earlier he had begun developing the India Street Artworks building, taking it from a rundown shell to a thriving community of allied tradesmen that hosted art shows. But that building was leased.
“The Little Italy venue had run its course for us. It was time for me to own my own building,” he said.
A grant from the city’s Storefront Improvement Program plus about $100,000 of Borrelli’s own money transformed the 16,000-square-foot building into a showroom for his artistic cabinetry business plus space for galleries, studios and semi-private offices. Few interior walls go to the ceiling, providing an overall air of camaraderie similar to the Hive.
“We all try to support each other,” Borrelli said about the 15 businesses occupying various areas in his building. “We have a lot of different creative energy going on. The interior itself is unique – a cool, inviting space.”
Offices start at $500 per month and go up to $1800. Day studios – used mostly by artists – range from $500 to $1000 per month. Occupancy has hovered at 100 percent since Artworks opened its doors to the designers, public relations firms, photographers and other creative small businesses that have rented space there.
Jeremy Dahl, owner of JDahl Design and Photo, moved his one-man office from his home to the Artworks building about a year ago. While like the Hive occupants he has seen his business increase due to interaction with others in the building, he said having a place to work away from home has had other advantages.
“For me, being in an office has really improved my organizational skills,” he said. “But the biggest step up has been being around people who I trust to give me an opinion about my work. If I see someone walking I can just grab them – getting that second eye helps my business.”
Another bonus, he said, has been the Artworks’ monthly networking meetings where all in the building are invited to share their work and leads on clients, and simply socialize. Art events are also held on-property, and the walls are consistently filled with inspirational paintings and other media.
“This isn’t a corporate environment at all. We have some real characters here,” Borrelli said with a laugh. “But I didn’t want to be in an industrial park – I wanted to be in a neighborhood where we could walk to restaurants and coffee houses. I wanted us to have an impact and be part of community that supports arts and crafts. And that’s just what we have here.”
Lorrie Webb had been a general contractor in Los Angeles for 16 years when she decided to come to San Diego and try something different. An admirer of mid-century architecture, she was driving down Adams Avenue in North Park one day in 2006 when she saw a for-sale sign that intrigued her.
“I pulled in, made an offer and did a handshake deal with the doctor who had been in the building for 50 years,” she said.
Built in 1960 for the doctor’s medical practice, the 5500-square-foot building’s suite of examining rooms transitioned easily into offices, Webb said. She invested about $125,000 in renovations, using all environmentally friendly materials. The finished product earned LEED certification.
“If you think you’re going to die in one of those (cubicles), this is the place for you,” she said. “Every office has huge, operable windows so you breathe fresh air and get natural light.”
While the Hive and Park Boulevard Artworks cater to a more artistic crowd, 2911 Adams’ 17 private offices are home to a variety of small businesses, including a hair stylist, an accountant, a real estate agent, an acupuncturist and several nonprofits.
“The hair salon is the hub of activity — we all get our hair done there,” Webb said. “But we also interact all the time in the (shared) kitchen. We network back and forth with one another. I use the services of several people in the building personally.”
Webb was so pleased with her results at 2911 Adams that in 2007 she bought a second building about a mile away at 2305 Meade Ave. Like the Adams property, it was rehabbed into 10 offices with shared common space. Both buildings are 100 percent occupied at rents ranging from $350 to $600 per month.
“I like this idea of ‘recycled buildings’ and giving life and spirit back to neat old buildings,” she said. “It would be very beneficial if it continues to grow and we see more places like this. It’s a good way for small businesses to be around other business owners without a huge outlay.”
770 11th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
Park Boulevard Artworks
4421 Park Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92116
2911 Adams Ave.
San Diego, CA 92116