The Bourse on Chapel Street is your home office...that's downtown
(3/14/2011) NEW HAVEN — People who work from home will all tell you the same thing: It’s not always easy. There can be so many distractions: everything from telemarketers, neighbors, the dog needing to go in and out, and, of course, the piles of laundry that need to be done.
And then there’s the isolation.
It’s no wonder that places like Starbucks and Panera are filled with people who are typing away on their laptops. They’re hungry, perhaps not just for the lattes and the bread, but also for the illusion of an office, and colleagues, and other human beings.
But there’s a different path. Robert and Carol Orr of New Haven have opened The Bourse, a second-floor loft space on Chapel Street that they have turned into a co-working dream space. There are desks, lamps, rugs and free wi-fi, as well as free coffee and tea, cold drinks and free fax machines and photocopiers, as well as a refrigerator. And although there are no cubicles — the idea is to be out around other people, after all — the Orrs say there’s space on other floors where a person could have a quiet phone conversation, when needed.
Creating co-working spaces are not new ideas. In fact, New Haven has another co-working space called The Grove, just around the corner. “They’re springing up all over, gradually moving east,” says Carol, “but they’re kind of new to New England. We thought it would be a good fit for New Haven.”
The Orrs have owned the building — known historically as The English Building — at 839 Chapel St., between Orange and Church streets, for years. It’s been the site of Robert’s architectural business, and for the past few months, the storefront downstairs has been used as Carol’s space for an antiques shop. But they said they had trouble attracting other tenants to the loft space there.
“We had over 100 people come, take one look at this end of Chapel Street, and turn on their heels and leave,” says Robert. “No one felt there were any customers who would come to this area. It’s not that it’s scary; it’s just a bit dusty and unattended to. But now we’re determined to bring this area back.”
They found themselves in quite a quandary. With the recession taking its toll on the architectural business, the Orrs say they were rapidly going through the pot of money they’d built up over the years, and knew they needed to do something besides simply watch their money drain away.
That’s when they decided to take the risk of creating a brand new business, one that capitalized on the new economy of downsizing. They decided to open up their loft to be a co-working space, a place that would allow people to rent a desk and a chair, give them 24/7 access and some lockers to secure their stuff. They decided to offer different membership plans: everything from hourly, daily and weekly rates, to monthly and more.
They put in bathrooms and five windows, as well as sheetrock over exposed steel joists. They ripped up the ugly tile floors and cleaned up the gummy mess left underneath. They painted, put down rugs, acquired desks, couches and chairs — and in December, The Bourse was open for business.
Calling it The Bourse was Carol’s idea. “Back in the industrial era, a bourse was a place where people would come to try out new ideas,” she says. “They’d talk to other people, and even try to get funding. Then that concept evolved until it became the name of the first stock exchange in Paris.”
Robert hopes that this Bourse, too, will evolve into being a center of synergism, that when a person ventures in to work on a proposal, it just might happen that another person there that day has something else to contribute to the idea. Already, he’s being contacted by entrepreneurs who operate under-the-radar businesses that rely on plenty of innovation and ideas.
“I think this is going to be a magnet to find out what’s happening in New Haven that isn’t Yale or Yale-New Haven Hospital,” he says. “These are people who have stopped waiting for the barriers to fall and are using their own two hands to get things moving.”
Two other businesses have moved into The English Building, in addition to Carol’s English Market on the first floor. Sarah Aldrich Pilates shares the second-floor loft space, and on the third floor there is Salon Lulu.
On a recent afternoon, there were two people working quietly in The Bourse, in addition to Robert and a colleague working on an architectural project.
Patti Brown of Hamden is a writer for The New York Times and a recent transplant to Connecticut from San Francisco. She started coming to the space to take pilates classes, and watched as the renovations on The Bourse unfolded. And then she decided to overcome her doubts and start writing there.
She likes to sit in the back, looking out through the window at the New Haven buildings.
“For the past 10 years, I’ve worked in a bureau,” she says. “I’ve never worked at home, never wanted to. I’m a collaborative person, so I like to be around people. I’ve been coming once or twice a week, and I like it. Sometimes I work at the Sterling Library, but I can’t make phone calls there. This is such a pretty space, too.”
Membership prices are variable and depend on the amount of time spent there. A monthly membership, which allows 24/7 access and gives you a key, is $195. A five-day pass is $80. An annual rate is $1,850, and a six-month pass is $1,000. For more information about The Bourse, its rates, and upcoming events, go to www.boursenewhaven.com.
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