The Brooklyn location of Makeshift Society will close at the end of October. You can skip to the end if you’re a member and wondering about your membership; otherwise, please read on.
Running coworking spaces was never the plan. I mean, how could it be? It didn’t exist as a category 10 years ago (and in the eyes of the SBA and various tax authorities is still unclassifiable). Nevertheless, in 2012, with the support of friends, we took a giant leap of faith and opened Makeshift Society in San Francisco, a space for creative entrepreneurs to meet, to work, to take a nap, to hold a class, and to open themselves up to the messiness and randomness that is working around others when you are your own boss.
For us, the mission came first, and the label afterwards. It’s only three years later and it feels like everybody has heard of coworking. This industry has grown tremendously fast because it’s tied to real estate, and that industry ultimately has a huge effect on how cities and communities are shaped.
The funny thing is that we aren’t really interested in the real estate. For all that we value good design and great environments, we’re interested in people. They always have been, and always will be, the life of cities. Because the mission comes first, we strive to do things our way, and find people who jive with that. Bryan summed up our feels well in a blog post:
Makeshift is a trojan horse… It is a coworking space and a community, but it’s about providing people in the creative fields with new pathways to independence by giving them the resources, agency, and accountability they need to excel.
And so in 2014, we opened a second Makeshift in a gorgeous old industrial building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We felt the timing was right, the neighborhood was full of creative types, and people would want to work near where they lived. Using our experience of what works in San Francisco we tried the same thing in Brooklyn, only bigger! Lots of communal tables. A sane, low-pressure mood. A “pleasantly productive place to work”, as a member recently put it.
What we underestimated, though, is what people wanted. People want offices! They want a space with a door on it. Based on our own experiences collectively freelancing for decades, that didn’t really make sense to us. The last thing we wanted was to leave the loneliness of home and go into a tiny private cubicle. The shape of what people want in Brooklyn does not match our research and our best guess. Makeshift Society in San Francisco was thriving almost immediately, but Brooklyn has struggled to hit critical mass even after a year and a half.
How do we feel? Sad, of course, but also grateful. We’ve met so many friends, partners, neighbors and co-conspirators in NYC. We’ve held book launches and workshops and straight-up celebrations — even a magic show. The people flowing through the Brooklyn space have struck business relationships, spawned collaborations, and found plenty of mutual support. We’re proud of what we’ve done, and want to see it continue in some fashion.
We are not entirely sure what to do next; we have ideas, certainly, but no clear answers. We need your help. It hasn’t been easy for us to know when to put on a brave face and act like things are going according to plan, and when to reveal our own struggles, knowing that being open with one’s vulnerabilities is what makes a community strong. We made some mistakes when we opened the Brooklyn space, regarding elements of the business, but we DON’T think our original mission is a mistake, nor the community that has formed around the space.
We’ve tried our best to do something for people, and what we’ve learned is that we need to go back to our roots a bit — to the idea of a society that’s right there in our name — and ask for your help in shaping the future of Makeshift. We’re open to your ideas, and we’re listening to you.
Makeshift Brooklyn is looking for a solution, and hopefully you can help us. Perhaps you’re a medium-sized startup that wants to move into a turnkey space in Williamsburg. Maybe you’re a coworking space looking to expand into Brooklyn. Or you have the organizing bug and want to make Makeshift a cooperative of sorts, while maintaining our mission.
We’d love to hear what you think. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or catch Bryan or Rena live via Skype. We’ll be holding office hours to talk all things Makeshift. Rena will be available by Skype (username: rena_tom) every Wednesday from August 5 – Oct 14 at noon-1pm PST and Bryan will be available weekly to meet in person at Makeshift Brooklyn.
If we don’t find a solution, we’ll gently wind things down toward the end of October. Rena will fly out from the West coast, not to mourn but to celebrate and give thanks to the umpteen people who have made Makeshift Society Brooklyn into the quirky, awesome community that it is today.
A spread from our recent feature in Metropolis Magazine with excellent photos by Mark Wickens.
If you’re a Brooklyn member and have questions about what this means, we’ve done our best to compile a FAQ. If there’s something else you’re curious about, follow the instructions at the bottom of the FAQ and we’ll get your specific questions answered too.
Oh! Some final things you should know: Makeshift SF is happy and healthy and turning three (!) this fall.
And even though these will be our last months, we’re still cooking up great partnerships and events in Brooklyn with our friends James Victore, Kelli Anderson, Sha Hwang, Elana Schlenker, the kind folk behind the Adobe Creative Residency, and more surprise guests to come. Stay tuned.
– Rena and Bryan