Could the former Wheaton clothing store be transformed into a coworking space? Some wonder if it’s a good fit

High-speed internet, cold brew coffee on tap, filtered water stations, private meeting rooms, and happy hour events.

Andrew Nast and Adam Clabaugh opened coworking spaces in suburban city centers with the benefits of a corporate office, minus the commute.

Their company, Brick & Mortar, aims to create a remote work culture for white-collar professionals who want to escape Zoom fatigue and the monotony of the past two years.

Nast sees the company, which hopes to open a new location in downtown Wheaton, becoming “the Airbnb of coworking.” The idea is for employees to book day passes and travel to coworking sites. Once they’ve logged off for the night, they can try a nearby restaurant or catch up with friends.

“People love the flexibility of working from home, or really working from anywhere,” said Nast, Managing Partner of Brick & Mortar. “We’re just trying to put this infrastructure in place that meets that need.”

But the company’s expansion plan, which involves placing shared offices in the commercial heart of suburban downtowns, is running into zoning hurdles.

In Wheaton, some city officials and residents embraced the concept, but not the proposed location of a Brick & Mortar space.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

The company wants to transform prime real estate – occupied for decades by a men’s clothing store – into a ground-floor coworking hub at Main and Front streets. The planning and zoning board recommended that city council approve the project, but it was not unanimous.

“Great idea, bad location,” said board member Robert Gudmundson.

Society encountered a similar reaction in Libertyville. Last month, village administrators rejected an application by Brick & Mortar to turn a vacant downtown building into what would have been its fifth suburban location.

On Monday evening, Wheaton City Council members will determine whether a coworking space complements or contrasts with the downtown vision. Nast said the flexible office space would fit in with the restaurant and retail scene.

“It really adds value to everything in the community, retail, restaurants, etc., because we bring people into downtown areas during the day and then in the late afternoon. , in the early evening,” he said.

Brick & Mortar would team up with restaurants to host happy hour events and act as a “trusted local tour guide” to visit remote workers.

“We love learning and understanding the restaurant, bar and retail landscape and being able to offer recommendations to our members and ensure they have an amazing time in the cities as planned,” said Nast.

City officials have acknowledged that there are vacant commercial spaces downtown due to the pandemic and other factors. In a memo to the zoning board, planners questioned whether the project “would worsen the existing situation in the long term by allowing non-commercial use on the ground floor which may not substantially benefit the existing retail at downtown”.

Brick & Mortar intends to purchase the downtown building from Robert Sandberg’s family. His menswear and sports memorabilia store of the same name filled the first floor of the building for decades until he died from injuries he sustained in a car crash in July 2020.

Since then, the two-story corner building has been vacant in a downtown area intended to “accommodate pedestrian-oriented retail and other uses,” according to Wheaton’s zoning rules. Brick & Mortar is seeking a special use permit to allow a coworking space to occupy the ground floor.

“We’re going to invest quite heavily in this to create a really, really eye-catching building,” said Clabaugh, Nast’s business partner.

Sandberg opened his first clothing store in Wheaton in 1958 and later owned several downtown properties. Over the years, the city had attempted to purchase or condemn the Sandberg buildings because they were either vacant or subject to various code violations.

The Main Street building dates from 1916. Brick & Mortar would remove the cedar canopy and replace all the windows while modernizing the exterior. Clabaugh envisions a steel marquee canopy that ties in with “many other buildings in the area.”

The project would eventually “completely gut” the interior to pave the way for lounge-style seating, electronic sit-stand desks, communal tables and a meeting room.

“Imagine one of the most beautiful hotel lobbies you’ve walked into in the past. Maybe that’s a good example of what we’ll be trying to accomplish inside,” Clabaugh said.

The company offers three pricing plans for private and dedicated spaces, open spaces, and hourly reservations. A day pass to its downtown Park Ridge location is $25, while unlimited memberships are $250.

Employers are giving employees stipends to work remotely, Nast said, and business owners are building a base out of Brick & Mortar.

It’s a more professional and productive setting than trying to get the job done in a cafe or home office with your dog barking in the background, Clabaugh said.

“We think the demand is going to continue to grow and grow as people move out of the big cities and into these trendy suburban downtowns,” he said.

Since opening its first location in Park Ridge, the company has expanded to Deerfield and LaGrange. A Glen Ellyn coworking space is under construction.

About Renee Williams

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