Communal work spaces offer bargain rates, high energy and sense of community

Communal work spaces offer bargain rates, high energy and sense of community

David LightPhoto by Toby Tabachnick
David LightPhoto by Toby Tabachnick

For Mauricio Feldman, one of the perks of being a Pittsburgh-based accountant working remotely for a company based in Minneapolis is having the flexibility of working from home.

But he has found an even better option.

Feldman is one of a growing number of Pittsburgh Jews who has joined the “co-working” movement, sharing an office environment with other individuals working for various employers, or for themselves, in a communal space that offers affordable amenities and a flexible lease agreement.

Feldman has found an ideal situation within Catapult PGH, a 5,000-square-foot open office space on Butler Street in Lawrenceville that boasts free parking, shared conference rooms, free Wi-Fi, 24-hour access and all the high-end coffee you can drink — all for only $75 a month.

But one of the greatest benefits of Catapult, he said, is the privilege of working alongside a diverse group of interesting people doing interesting things.

“There are some startups here, a few developers, some writers,” Feldman said. “It’s really interesting because it’s a mixed community. There is a much better energy here than working from home.”

Some people find working from home too distracting or too isolating and choose to work out of coffee shops instead. But there are some definite advantages of co-working spaces over the coffee-shop model, Feldman said.

“One of the advantages,” he said, “is you can leave your things at your desk and step away. And there is a community feeling here, which is fantastic.”

At Catapult, workers plan group happy hours on Fridays and often organize group outings for lunch.

“I am definitely more productive here,” said Feldman, originally from Peru but who has called Pittsburgh home since 2010.

Most of the workers at Catapult share one large open space filled with desks, but there is also a separate room that individuals are free to use for private phone conversations.

While the standard fee for a “flex desk” at Catapult is $75 a month, Feldman pays $50 a month for a part-time membership; he works from Catapult two or three times a week because he often travels for his job. A “fixed desk” — at which a worker can leave items overnight — starts at $150 a month.

“It’s super affordable,” Feldman said. “And Lawrenceville is such a good place. There’s a ton of really good restaurants within walking distance. The community is very nice here.”

While some people are longtime Catapult members, others join for shorter timeframes, maybe just a couple months.

Feldman has enjoyed networking with the various people he sits alongside: a blogger, an attorney, an environmental engineer. And the ages of the workers cover a wide range as well, from 20-somethings to 60-somethings.

A similar model can be found in East Liberty at the Beauty Shoppe on Penn Avenue, where for $100 a month, a freelancer or a startup can have a flex membership that provides access to a desk, conference rooms and, yes, unlimited gourmet coffee. For $250 per month, one can reserve a dedicated space. All plans are month-to-month.

Sydney Kushner, 25, has found the Beauty Shoppe a perfect home for his nonprofit startup CCChampions, through which the Pittsburgh native matches children battling with cancer with inspirational adult mentors, including sports stars, police officers, and even a rodeo cowgirl.

“I’m always able to find a little quiet nook here,” said Kushner of the 10,000-square-foot space that spans five floors.

Like Feldman, Kushner appreciates the opportunity to work alongside a wide variety of people, including “lots of

consultants and freelancers,” and has formed relationships with many of the other tenants.  

“It’s cool because there are people who have been here since I’ve been here [June, 2013],” Kushner said. “People are recognizable, and we’ve built relationships. And there are always new people coming in doing cool new projects. It’s a refreshing feeling.”

Another advantage of working from the Beauty Shoppe, he said, is having an office space in which to interview potential new employees rather then just meeting them in a coffee house or at his home.

Lillian Rafson, who grew up in Squirrel Hill, runs her startup, Pack Up + Go, from the Beauty Shoppe. Pack Up + Go plans surprise three-day getaways for its clients.

“I recently moved back to Pittsburgh,” said Rafson, a 2013 graduate of New York University. “Working from home had too many distractions.”

Rafson also appreciates the social aspects of the shared workspace, she said, as opposed to setting up shop at a coffee house where everyone is working and there is little camaraderie.

Less then two miles from the Beauty Shoppe, just across from the Bloomfield Bridge, is the former Drake Baking Co. building, owned by the family of David Light, whose father bought the property in the 1980s. The building, which went through several permutations since that time, is now 25,000 square feet of open office space housing a variety of companies that are set off into designated areas.

With the innovation economy blossoming in the Steel City and the proliferation of small business growth, Light saw an opportunity in the large space in Bloomfield.

“I thought there was a real opportunity in the market with this location,” said Light, a member of Poale Zedeck Congregation. “It’s close to Oakland, adjacent to Lawrenceville and near East Liberty. It’s where the millennials really want to be.”

The first floor of the building is home to anchor-tenant C-leveled, a startup accelerator that works with some of the other tenants on marketing, business strategy and sales. C-leveled also is at the helm of tenant networking events.

Shared amenities of the space include conference rooms, a gym, a shower, indoor bike parking and fancy coffee.

Light’s model differs from some of the other new, open workspaces in that its short-term leases tend to be longer: three to five years.

“The co-working model is based on a month-to-month membership,” Light said. “This is a hybrid. The companies I am working with are capable of signing leases. We mutually agree to working on shorter term leases.”

The mix of tenants in the space is “fluid,” he added. “The message is, if we’re offering really flexible work spaces, it’s important to have flexible leasing terms that match the physical space. I like having the flexibility to create a dynamic tenant mix — that’s the collaborative model.”

In addition to C-leveled, other tenants housed in the Bloomfield space include Data Bank, which offers back office data management, and Polyconcept, a large promotional products manufacturer.

“Everybody’s friendly here,” Light said, adding there are many events offered for the benefit of all the tenants, including a local chamber of commerce event and a visit from Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

“What works here is that the office market is really changing,” Light said. “The millennials really want a different option in terms of how they work and where they work.”

While the commercial sector is having “some success with addressing that market,” he continued, there are challenges in meeting the demand for “more dynamic, open, collaborative space.”

“What I think works with co-working spaces around Pittsburgh is the use of smaller scale buildings that can be repurposed because they have character and authenticity and convert them into flexible, collaborative workspace.

“I don’t call this an office,” Light said of his building. “It’s a workplace.”

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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