If you’re a member of Ironfire, Long Beach’s local shared workspace provider, there is a newness to its office experience. That newness, in a word: outdoors.
Situated off the tiny offshoot of Bellflower Boulevard that is the quaint stretch of Viking Way, Ironfire has moved its shared workspace outside and into a parklet—one of the first office parklets of its kind in the nation.
This is the latest attempt by owner Josh Rencher to move on from the effects COVID-19 has had had on his business. Before the pandemic, Rencher was excited about the success of his Ironfire coworking business in East Long Beach. Membership was climbing as it served a part of the city beyond the downtown epicenter with shared workspaces. Things were so good that Rencher was looking to open a second location by the end of the year.
And then came COVID-19 and things got dire.
“We lost more than half of our members after the mid-March closure, and our revenue dropped 70% between February and April.”
Suddenly, he found himself scrambling to figure out how to reconnect an already disconnected community—his customers wanted to escape the monotony of being at homes but were hesitant about going out and sharing space with strangers. Rencher looked at many options, one being the construction of an outdoor parklet. While the idea was innovative and straight-forward, the cost of putting one together could reach upwards of $8,000. That was out of reach for Rencher until an unlikely partner arrived: Long Beach’s Open Streets Initiative, which uses the resources of the Public Works Departments to create additional outdoor space on sidewalks and in streets, though usually for dining establishments.
“I applied for the parklet on a whim, not expecting to be approved since they’re only approving them for restaurants right now, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go through with it,” Rencher said. “Then, we were approved two days after I made our case for outdoor workspace, so we decided to move forward.”
Ironfire’s parklet transforms two street parking spaces at its front entrance into a 200-square-foot outdoor office, complete with WiFi and power access. Shaded with nearby trees and canopies, other amenities include coffee, snacks and printing indoors, which also features a physically distanced and partitioned indoor seating area that is available for use, standing desks included.
“Some of the members who’ve come back are using it already, as are some new members who’ve joined since we re-opened last month,” Rencher said. “We’ve gained some new members since re-opening, but we’re nowhere near where we were. I’m hoping the parklet will make some of our yet-to-return members feel better about returning to shared workspace since they can work outdoors.”
The idea of coworking parklets isn’t new. From New Orleans to San Francisco, businesses have been trying to figure out ways to not just provide cheaper office space in a real estate market that often feels wildly expensive—this is where the origin of shared office space originates from—but also ways that removes people from the humdrum of daily office life.
Great first official day of WePark!— wepark (@weparkweparty) April 30, 2019
We had 3 events across the world today:
– @valdecarpentrie in France
– @graybright in Santa Monica
– @VictorPontis + 30 others in San Francisco. (Recap coming soon.)
And we hear more are coming soon to a city near you! pic.twitter.com/cGnea3G9VQ
Precocious in their intents, these smaller efforts have led to larger, more formal undertaking by the name of WePark, a worldwide initiative to do what is now being done on the regular in the COVID-19 world: Using public space typically taken over by cars for more fruitful endeavors, including work—an example that Ironfire is reflecting locally.
“We are always searching for ways to improve the experiences that our members and guests have,” said Ironfire Community Manager Bonnie Raunau. “This new addition allows for more seating options and the opportunity for a change of scenery while you work.”