Working from home sounds like an amazing gig, and in many ways it is — but the time ultimately comes when the only thing keeping your sanity in check is getting out of the apartment. Coffee shops are great, but space is limited and wifi can often be spotty. What’s a freelance/telecommuting/self-employed worker to do?
Perhaps make their way to BrooklynWorks at 159. Neighbor Vic Puri and his wife Rachel (shown above left with employees Michael Bordelon and Sima Vasilver) have succeeded in creating a coworking space perfect for everyone from writers and fashion designers to architects and lawyers.
Initially located on the second and third floors of 159 20th Street (between 3rd and 4th Avenues), the business recently expanded to the first floor of the building, opening up 11,000-square-feet of available workspace.
We caught up with Vic to learn a bit more about BrooklynWorks at 159, their first year in business, and what the future holds for the South Slope company.
SSN: First of all, tell us a bit about yourselves.
VP: My wife Rachel and I started this space in early 2013. Rachel grew up in Bensonhurst and I am originally from the DC area. We have been in South Slope for four years, and love this neighborhood. Rachel is a Registered Nurse. Along with running BrooklynWorks at 159, I run a small design and construction business based in DC.
Sima has been working almost a year and was integral in the expansion of the space, and of course she makes sure the place runs smooth. She grew up in Brooklyn and currently lives in Sheepshead Bay. Unfortunately she is planning to relocate soon to Sydney, and will be dearly missed!
Michael helped run a coworking space in New Haven for a couple of years before working with us, and now lives here in the neighborhood. He started a couple of months ago but has already made his mark on the space. He has many other interests in his free time, including writing and fashion.
What made you decide to open a coworking space?
I was working from home and like many others who try and work from home, I grew tired of it. I was not productive and the work/home balance was out of whack. Although I love the cafes in the neighborhood, I needed an office.
The idea started as a small shared office environment. A place where I can work but also be around others. But as you know, ideas take on a life of their own, they change and evolve over time. It was obvious that so many others in the area were in the same boat, and we also loved the idea of a cultivating a workspace that also served other functions: A place for arts and music, a hub for local start ups, an inviting space that one would want to come to work and meet others.
So what started as a need to get out of the apartment became BrooklynWorks at 159. And of course, the idea continues to grow and evolve.
How does the space work? Is a membership required to work there?
Our goal is to provide workspace options for every type of freelancer, nonprofit, or small business. You don’t need a membership to start, you can drop in for the day and enjoy unlimited coffee, tea, and high speed internet for $15 (or 10 drop-ins for $100). There is also 24/7 access membership for as low as $325, your own lockable desk space for as low as $475/month. The membership comes with printing, shipping, conference room, business address, and reception services.
As far as signing up, we try to keep it simple. If there is an available desk or office that works for you, you can start working out of there immediately. There is no application process where you have to be accepted first, just a security and first month membership is due. No hidden fees to the pricing schedule, no move-in fees, no additional taxes. Memberships are monthly. We have also expanded and now have spaces for larger companies, there are a few larger organizations (5+ members) that are now working out of here.
Did you always have your eye on this neighborhood, or were there other areas you explored?
My wife and I live just a few blocks away from the space. We love this neighborhood and knew it had to be here.
Who came up with the name? What were some of the names you tossed in the trash?
We just kept throwing out names until one stuck. We had some awful ones during our brainstorming sessions. “Funktion House” comes to mind, also the very bland “Brooklyn Office Space.” I was running in the park when I called Rachel with the name BrooklynWorks. It’s always when running in the park, isn’t it? The city didn’t allow us to keep that name, due to another organization with a similar name, so we later added the “159,” but now we can’t imagine the name without it.
You guys host a number of art events, too. How did that get started, and what events do you have on the horizon?
Art and music events were always part of the plan. It adds a whole different dimension to the space, the creative energy. And the rotating gallery of art keeps the space fresh. Even some of the furniture and tables in a way are pieces, handmade from local artisans. The art events themselves are part of the larger plan to bring various communities together.
Some upcoming events this summer include professional workshops, an evening of short film, live music, and of course the networking happy hours.
After one year, is the business how you envisioned it would be?
It’s so much better than what I could have ever imagined. The best part about working here is meeting and getting to know everyone, and learning about all the various kinds of work being done out of the space. We have a dizzying variety of businesses and organizations. There are nonprofits that work domestically and internationally, tech firms working on design, app development and branding, some are architects, lawyers, CPAs, designers. From film to fashion to financial management, it seems like almost every type of industry is here. We did not imagine that the space would serve so many different industries, and it is really cool to be a part of.
What about the business has surprised you the most in the past year?
There have been many surprises! One surprising aspect is just how much people work. Although there is quite a bit of collaboration and networking, people come here to get their work done. So many of our members take full advantage of the 24/7 access, working late nights and weekends on their projects.
In a way it mirrors how much we put into creating the space, and the work it takes to keep it running smoothly. I guess it should not be so surprising, but it’s inspiring to see how passionate people are about what they do, and how much work they put into their companies.
What does the future have in store for BrooklynWorks at 159?
We are constantly working on the space and trying to provide more services for members and drop-ins. We have plans to bring in a fully-stocked snack bar, more bike parking, food truck visits, etc. We will be providing more tools to allow members to collaborate with each other on projects, and also more visibility for members to showcase their work to the general public. There are so many ideas and collaborative projects that we have discussed, and can’t wait to continue to grow and evolve, to serve our members and the community the best we can. We are just getting started!
Bottom image via BrooklynWorks at 159