By Hannah Himes | [email protected]
A workshop. Laser cutters. 3D printers. Office space. Faux-grass covered stairs. Beer on tap.
The Garden, a co-building community space designed to fulfill the needs of small businesses, opened at 5380 Eisenhower Ave. in October. Since then, it has provided tools for active duty service members, event space for businesses and organizations and various other services for its almost 100 members.
“There aren’t a lot of spaces where small businesses and individuals who want to physically build a product — not a digital asset, not an app, not a piece of digital ephemera, but rather a thing — can go to do that work,” Allen Brooks, The Garden’s chief operating officer, said. “We want app makers and coders and writers and musicians and artists … kind of a real diversity of industry here.”
The industrial space is owned and operated by Building Momentum, a veteran-owned small business that provides science and engineering consulting and technology training for various organizations, including the United States Marine Corps.
Building Momentum’s team came up with the concept for The Garden in November 2017 when TechShop, a Crystal City-based chain of workshops and fabrication studios, went bankrupt. At the time, Building Momentum was based in a 2,000-square-foot warehouse on Edsall Road. They’ve since relocated to the second floor of The Garden.
“We knew TechShop had gone bankrupt because by Friday of that week, seven of the small companies that were operating out of TechShop had kicked open our door and begged to use our laser cutter,” Brooks, who is also on Building Momentum’s leadership team, said.
At the same time, the Marine Corps requested that a functional training facility be established in Alexandria to accommodate growing demand.
“We needed to be able to train more people, and we needed to be able to provide space for small businesses and so that’s when we were like, ‘Ah-ha. There’s something here,’” Brooks said.
Building Momentum relocated to the new building on Eisenhower Avenue and established The Garden as a separate arm of its business.
Brooks said its goal from the beginning has been to help small businesses.
“Being a small business is really hard,” Brooks said. “It’s hard and scary and exciting and all those things at once. And one of the scariest and hardest things to do is to sign a lease, because when you sign a lease for a space … oftentimes you are signing your personal liability away.”
Small business owners run the risk of losing thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars when they bet on their business’ success, Brooks said. On top of that, small businesses that need tool access face additional financial investments, as it’s necessary to purchase tools to complete their work.
To help with these financial challenges, The Garden team examined the “pain points” of small business growth, tool rental or use and space leasing. Their membership plans aim to alleviate that pain with month-to-month agreements in a space that offers traditional offices as well as workshop access.
“Welders, laser cutters, 3D printers – it all costs a lot of money,” Brooks said. “But we need to have those tools here anyway because we’re training people … but when we’re not training, those 3D printers are just sitting there stagnant. I’d much rather those tools be of use to people.”
He said he also hopes that the “gritty,” “industrial” location would allow “the seeds of growth to take place,” for The Garden, its members and the community.
“We have a potential for really activating a change in this part of Alexandria,” Brooks said.
Lauren Bell, the founder and managing director of operations support business LaCire, has been a member of The Garden for a few months.
She said The Garden’s unique concept, dynamic atmosphere and location drew her to the business.
“I am very dedicated to supporting local Alexandria businesses. I’m a resident, and I own a small business here,” she said.
Since becoming a Garden member, Bell said she’s been able to have “a lot of really good conversations” and work with other small businesses.
“It works out for my business strategy as well as just, you know, being a really great co-working space that offers a lot of support for small businesses,” she said. “It’s the place for me to be.”
Memberships at The Garden can range from $150 to $3,600 monthly. There is also a corporate membership, the price of which is not listed online.
Plans include variations of open-desk space, private office space, workshop access and training and storage space.
Bell said paying for her membership is worth it and that The Garden offers reasonable prices in comparison to other co-working spaces in the DMV area.
“My business is primarily out of my house. But having an office is important. Having a place you can go and meet is important. And so, I’m definitely willing to pay for that,” she said.
Tim Bailey, president of consulting company Nova Bailey Consulting, agreed that the pricing of The Garden is “perfectly reasonable,” especially given the tools, technology and training available.
Bailey had worked with Building Momentum before it moved to the new location and has been a Garden member since the beginning. He said he’s been able to make important connections and find new clients at the space.
“That exposure to the other people that are here was a huge benefit, especially for me being an independent contractor and always and additional opportunities to connect with other people,” Bailey said.
“I continue to find value in the community, and I continue to find work in the community as well,” he said.
He said he mainly uses the space for working, networking and meetings, but one of his favorite activities to do in the space is weld.
“Welding is so unique, and it’s so fun,” Bailey said. “I like that flexibility of being able to do a number of different things.”
That flexibility is one of The Garden’s main goals, Brooks said. The space offers gender-neutral bathrooms, a nursing room that can serve as a private phone call room and a careful balance of tech and community space.
“We wanted the space to feel very open and inclusive to anyone who might come,” Brooks said. “No matter where you are in your own life and your personal journey and your professional journey, we want you to feel comfortable here.”