I am writing this post at one of the "hot desks" at the Engine Room in White River Junction. Three other people are also working, leaning into their computer screens. Amy Robb, director, is the front-door greeter and tour guide, and a handful of others are busy setting up the bar for the evening's First Friday event. It is relatively quiet with a minimum of background noise, one voice explaining to someone who has just come in, as if on cue, to ask aloud "What is this place?"
It's a work-in-progress co-working space, barely two months old, with some tables and chairs, desks for those who like to stand and those who prefer to sit, two comfortable couches, a stage, and a bar area. If you crave a quiet or private spot, you can squeeze into the ergonomically furnished Talk Box, closed off from the main room by some glass and the original Freight House door.
The Talk Box, also called the Phone Booth
Robb did not want to build it and then hope that they would come. She surveyed the potential market to find out what people might want in a co-working space. (It turned out that they wanted lightning-speed Wifi and a friendly atmosphere.) Basic needs like bathrooms and kitchen facilities lie behind the common area, as well as two break-out rooms and a conference room. As I write this, the Wifi is doing its job and the atmosphere is pleasant if somewhat subdued on a Friday afternoon.
For whom is this space intended? Robb describes them as those who have grown beyond the amenities of the traditional cafe. That might include freelancers who need to take a meeting now and then. Work-from-home people who crave the sound of another adult voice, or whose Wifi is slow and unreliable. Writers for whom the demands of home offer no relief. The growing popularity of co-working spaces cheers me. After having been freed from traditional offices by new technologies, it appears that people are looking to gather together, at least some of the time.
Coffee table with Robb's capstone paper for her Masters degree entitled --appropriately--Impact: How Social Innovation Centers Work and Create Impact; also, starters for insane conversations
An adjacent space with 24/7 access is called the Long Haul. There are desks for rent and rooms for lease. One room is being eyed by a local nonprofit, and another may serve as "a warm office space" and facilities for a construction company that is building more housing in the former College Cleaners location in downtown White River Junction.
Co-working by day, event space by night. In addition to First Fridays, on Third Thursdays the bar opens at 4:00 p.m. for Engine Room members and the general public who fancy a drink and an opportunity for schmoozing. Tuesday nights are "open stage"--jam sessions for music, poetry, and other performing arts. According to events coordinator Jenny Albee, demand for the space has been high. JAG Productions (Choir Boy, currently playing at the Briggs Opera House) rented the space for evening rehearsals. The Revels have held a workshop there; holiday and birthday and sorority parties are being booked. On New Year's Eve, a celebration at the Engine Room will include live music from Woodsmith and Hersch, recently nominated for a Grammy.
Evidence of the comfy factor--feet up in the Talk Box
The Engine Room is located in the Freight House (same building as Elixir Restaurant) on South Main Street in White River Junction VT. The potholed parking lot will be repaved in the near future. Fridays, through November, are free of charge and a good opportunity to sample the facility and the vibe. More information, including daily and monthly rates for working in the common space or renting a desk in the Long Haul, is available on the Engine Room's website.
Susan B. Apel, author, ArtfulEdge