Ground Floor Coworking, New Rochelle:
Roy, Kathy and Miriam Gilwit
Freelancers, entrepreneurs and telecommuters are on the rise—which means lots of people working at home in their sweats. But after a while, sitting cross-legged on your couch balancing a laptop and taking conference calls at the kitchen table can get old. Not to mention lonely. Ground Floor Coworking fills the void between home office and corporate office, letting you work the way you want in a boutique-style coworking space that provides the perfect venue to work, learn and gather. Ground Floor operates like a startup campus, providing eager minds with an outlet and WiFi, and a fertile breeding ground for collaboration with like-minded freelancers, solopreneurs and small business owners. It offers the resources of a work place without the high overhead and gives new meaning to “co-worker.”
Community Capital New York provided the Gilwits, Kathy and Roy and their business partner, daughter Miriam, 24, with a small business loan to get their enterprise off the ground, and the business development expertise to help make it work. It’s been a family project, with their seven other children ranging in age from 32 to 15 helping clean up and restore the space, designing the signage, logo, Mondrian-style mural and clever architectural lighting. Artwork created by Roy and his father graces the walls; and Kathy uses the space for her writing and networking projects. The decision to remove the dropped ceiling created street level floor to ceiling windows and a sense of lofty openness seldom found at home or office. (See the Gilwit’s on You Tube).
Mingle with the inclusive community of creative entrepreneurs (contractors, screenwriters, illustrators, urban planners, web designers, photographers, attorneys, and a bail bondsman) using the space, and access lectures and happy hours. Sit upright on chairs from IKEA or simply sprawl out on leather loungers and furniture smartly sourced from Habitat ReStore, Build It Green and Craigslist. French press coffee wards off that catnap when you’re under deadline and a conference room allows you to meet with clients privately. Sign up on a month to month basis, or drop in daily. Use key pad entry, then tune in or out with headphones, choose a designated or shared desk, large or small conference room, hold an event or attend one—happily, it’s your choice.
How did you get your business off the ground?
Kathy: I couldn’t write at home. It was too distracting. I looked into where people go if you want a business environment, but without being committed to an office and overhead. I discovered coworking.
Miriam: I wrote the business plan as a senior project my last year at Lehigh. I really liked the idea of coworking. It provides an affordable alternative to the high price of the typical rented office, the distraction of the coffee shop, and the isolation of the home office. Working alongside other professionals creates a community that inspires, motivates and empowers. It was Mom’s idea. She really pushed us up the hill and helped the project get to the next level. Why New Rochelle?
Kathy: We visited other coworking spaces in Westchester, including the Watercooler in Tarrytown, and believed there was a need for a coworking space in this corner of the county.
Roy: New Rochelle is the seventh largest city in the state.
Kathy: It’s more than a bedroom community. There was a radical shift in 2007 when the economy pitched a lot of people over. As people recovered, they realized that business can be done differently.
Miriam: There is a shift in behavior in recent grads, too. They’re coming out with larger college loans and entry level jobs. They’re spending more time at home. Westchester is the place they grew up. Ground Floor gives them a place to work, writing resumes and cover letters, working on their own entrepreneurial ideas, while they’re in this “in between” place.
Kathy: It’s great to see generations meld. There are people who have the privilege of having an established business and those who are emerging and starting from the ground up. We started that way. We had the spark of an idea and needed to dress the bones. We met with a realtor and we liked the great street vibe, the great light, the location between City Hall, the library and Iona College, and the 15-minute walk to downtown New Rochelle.
Roy: We have lived in New Rochelle our whole married life (32 years). We know the community. We hired a fulltime manager who is here 90% of the time; I work at the library (as IT manager), and Kathy works at City Hall, which gives us the flexibility to be here because this is a business that goes days, nights and weekends. It has a different rhythm. Coworking is not just about the physical place, but about establishing a coworking community. We integrate with the community, hold activities and meetings here, inviting local nonprofits to use the space for seminars, demonstrations and training courses. Kathy and I are on the operational side, Miriam is a business partner, working on events and strategy (Miriam works full time for Voya Financial in Manhattan).
Kathy: We needed a loan. Not any loan. We had to get an unsecured loan. Community Capital didn’t just loan us the money. They connected us with resources. They helped us to understand that at the end of the day a business has to be profitable, an idea that’s viable. You have to find a way for the relationship to the idea and the emotions behind it to be prosperous. It’s sobering to have that kind of discussion, but businesses rise and fall.
Roy: Community Capital was with us before, during and after the loan. They connected us to mentors. They helped with cash flow analysis. They made us feel like we had someone in our corner, working with us to make it work.
How did your business evolve?
Kathy: We designed private and semi-private spaces, and the space itself to be flexible and adaptable for an individual or a team, useful for any size of business and the goal of the person running it.
Miriam: There is a diversity of people that varies by time of day, and days of the week. On a Tuesday you might have an urban planner working alongside a lawyer and a woman in the corner writing screen plays, and come evening, a photographer, and then a meet up of Women Entrepreneurs of Westchester. Roy: The major benefit is a natural networking that occurs among those using the coworking space.
Kathy: The only constants are the walls and floors. Clients share the atmosphere, not just the physical space.
What did you wish you knew?
Roy: How long the build out would take. We began the project in the summer, a difficult time to schedule contractors. Plus we wanted to do a lot of the demolition and work ourselves. The process took seven months. Seven months of paying rent without being open.
Kathy: Our money, our finances, were very tight. We did a lot of sweat equity. When you’re on a budget, often the thing that you most need—marketing and social media—is not able to be included in the budget. We’re creating a community through a grassroots effort, by joining our Chamber of Commerce, and by word of mouth.
Roy: To deepen our partnership with the Chambers of Commerce for Mt Vernon and New Rochelle.
Kathy: We want to build out our website, and include White Papers or blogs on topics of relevance for small business owners. And as we settle into the rhythm of the business, we want to do more of our own projects and launch more of our entrepreneurial ideas. (For example) Roy’s father was the art director of a large agency and died at 49 leaving huge artworks and paintings. It would be great to share his photographs and artwork as a timeline of his life. We installed metal tracks and an art hanging system to be able to exhibit everything from art therapy projects (this used to be an outpatient site) to featuring the work of New Rochelle artists.
Miriam: To use Google to create a 360 degree view of the inside of the space and tie it to Google Maps. Seeing the space makes it tangible.
Ground Floor Coworking, 547 North Ave, New Rochelle, 914.999.4324, www.groundfloorcw.com.