NORTH CENTRAL WASHINGTON — Coworking spaces – a niche within the traditional office space market – offer those without an office cubicle, or in need of escaping one, community and Wi-Fi. Wenatchee is home to three coworking spaces: Mission St Commons, at 218 S. Mission St.; Mercantile, at 14 N. Wenatchee Ave.; and Wenatchee Workspace, at 1737B N. Wenatchee Ave.
Jason Walker owns and operates Mission St Commons with his wife, Kerri Walker. The couple opened the South Mission Street location in 2019 when Walker said, “coworking was taking off,” and the Walkers “bought the building first, not knowing what we wanted to do with it.” A few months' research coupled with Jason working remotely and Kerri needing roots for her own business nudged the couple to open Mission St. Commons.
“This is a real estate investment for us,” Walker said. “(For research) We traveled to cities we went to all the time – we went to Bend, we went to Reno, we went to Portland, we went to Seattle – we looked at (coworking) places and we looked at fees. Then we kind of said, ‘What kind of market are we?’”
Coworking spaces differ from the traditional business park and a traditional office building; coworking spaces are shared office spaces with a variety of desk styles within a singular building. Designed based on typical office needs, Wenatchee's trio of coworking spaces house meeting rooms, desk space and a kitchenette for necessary coffee refills.
“There’s tremendous value in the interpersonal interactions and business-to-business exchanges that happen in the Emporium Room or at the coffee bar – it’s magic, and it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen in a traditional office building environment,” wrote Cory Wray, one of Mercantile’s four owners, in an email.
Mercantile, located in downtown Wenatchee inside the historic Ellis-Forde Building, is owned by Rick and Cory Wray and Jeff and Heather Ostenson. According to Wray, similarly to the Walkers, the quartet frequented West Coast coworking spaces to check out pricing models before landing on rates “we thought would be successful in Wenatchee.”
Mercantile opened its doors in 2019.
“The vision for Mercantile evolved out of a combination of personal need for space for our own endeavors, and a desire to use the energy spent in creating our own space to bring a collaborative and transformational space to Downtown Wenatchee,” wrote Wray from Mercantile.
Freelancers, project collaborators in need of a common meeting ground, start-ups, remote workers, the self-employed and nomads working on the road: Coworking spaces offer office space and conference rooms for those seeking a change of scenery from home offices or tired of fending for the best table at a cramped coffee shop.
“We have mature businesses, start-ups, non-profits, remote workers and people who join us by the day to hang out and make connections,” Mercantile owner Wray wrote. “We have artists, accountants, marketing and sales professionals, students, educators, scientists, and a bunch of other professions represented.”
Since one size doesn’t fit all for coworking space consumers’ needs, Mercantile, Wenatchee Workspace and Mission St Commons offer different packages to fit the variety of frequenters that set up shop in the spaces. All three locations offer noncommittal passes to accommodate those just dropping in or testing the coworking waters before committing. All three run day passes for $25. Mercantile also offers three types of "flex" passes, ranging from $80 to $175 and Wenatchee WorkSpace offers a 10-per-year punch card and week pass, according to the workspaces’ websites. All three coworking spaces offer monthly rates.
“It’s kind of a transient population, especially with the options we have here (at Mission St Commons). We just had a lady (tenant) in, she was only here for one month for a rock climbing trip, but she has housemates and that was sort of a new thing (for her),” Mission St Common’s Walker said. “Part of what we offer is that we don’t offer huge commitment. The max commitment is 30 days. After that there’s no commitment at all.”
All three spaces offer a designated space as well as a free-for-all option for setting up base at any open space. Wenatchee WorkSpace and Mercantile offer private office suites. Wenatchee WorkSpace private office suites clock in at $550 and Mercantile starts at $450, both monthly. Conference rooms or meeting space are available on-site at each location.
Wenatchee WorkSpace primarily does pricing based on number of days frequented in a week per month; Mission St Commons runs its price point on desk type (i.e. designated desk or free-for-all seating); and Mercantile offers several options including event space. Corporate memberships are also on the table for Wenatchee WorkSpace and Mercantile.
“Co-working means everyone sharing in the costs of essential office infrastructure and services, which provides obvious financial value, especially for sole proprietors and small businesses,” wrote Mercantile owner Wray. “The fact that our members and patrons are sharing the costs makes our workspace more accessible to individuals from a budgetary standpoint.”
Overhead of coworking properties include a mortgage, insurance, security, utilities, Wi-Fi, kitchenette essentials and the largest expense being cleaning work, Mission St Common’s Walker said – “the same kind of variable costs you would have with a house.”
“Many of our costs are what you’d expect to incur operating a business – building costs, insurance, utilities, maintenance, and supplies – but we also offer free Wi-Fi, complimentary coffee and tea, a shared kitchen and printer, mail service, use of conference rooms and have a community manager at a front desk daily,” Mercantile owner Wray said. “Unlike a lot of office spaces, our members with private offices have locking doors, and our fixed desk members have locking cabinets to secure hardware, devices and documents. Our on-site mail is secured in locking box units.”
When opening a coworking space, location and parking are two main components to keep in mind, according to Walker from Mission St Commons. A location centered near other businesses for other services is ideal and accessible parking neighboring to the business or nearby is key in opening a coworking space.
“The Mercantile’s location in the heart of downtown has all the key opportunities and experiences big employers try to create on their campuses,” Wray from Mercantile wrote. “A walkable, authentic downtown with restaurants, fitness and wellness opportunities, and after hours.”
A drawback of operating a coworking space include margins running small, Mission St Commons owner Walker said. He also added, due to the transient population that uses coworking spaces, a guaranteed revenue stream could be flagged as a challenge to the business.
Three years ago, the Covid-19 pandemic’s ripple effect into daily life uprooted employees from their offices and caused mass adaption to remote work settings, Zoom meetings and long-distance relationships with coworkers. Despite many across the economy returning to offices, the interest in remote working and as a result, coworking spaces, hasn’t dissipated. Since Covid-19, the transition to remote work created craving for human interaction, and coworking spaces became a place to resume watercooler talk, Walker from Mission St Commons noted.
“Yeah, remote work is great but if you’re stuck in your house all day you don’t get as much watercooler talk. Having the right amount of energy creates synergies,” Walker said. “There are synergies here. I had a question about doing something … if he (a tenant of Mission St Commons) wasn’t here, I would’ve just been on YouTube searching. He figured it out like that and I got it done in 30 seconds.”
Mission St Commons owner Walker added the pandemic did at first have a negative impact on business, but the tide turned and he’s anticipating a flush of new faces at coworking spaces as “this new remote work reality settles in.”
“The demand for co-working space seems to have grown significantly as more and more people who can work from anywhere are moving to the region,” Mercantile’s Wray wrote.
A tenant of Mission St Commons, Vincent Nguyen, said networking is an added benefit of setting up shop in a coworking space since “you get to meet other employees in different areas (of the workforce).”
“The fact that all of these different individuals are sharing the space versus spending most of their work experience in an individual office provides the opportunity for cross-pollination and expanding networks," wrote Wray.
Center Investments Inc., a North Central Washington commercial real estate firm, president Chaun Birks, said coworking spaces in Wenatchee have performed better than he anticipated. Coworking spaces provide for the small office users that fall into the gap for ideal office size and are left to “hooky spaces.”
“I think it fits well into the market – a niche that expanded with COVID. It was something we never really had (in Wenatchee), and it was just something that was an unexpected fit, but fits pretty well,” Birks said.