London entrepreneurs make most of versatile downtown retail and office space

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The Pickle Social Club — an odd name for a place that defies the usual definitions  — joins the growing list of versatile “shared spaces” in the downtown core.

The storefront space across from Western Fair will serve as a music hall, a meeting and party place and a pop-up retail store.

Dave Cook said it’s a brick and mortar example of the new sharing economy.

“It’s whatever you want it to be. People can take bite-sized chunks and rent it for a day” says Cook, the owner of the facility and entrepreneur behind the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market and Fire Roasted Coffee.

The Pickle Social Club, a former variety store at Ontario and Dundas Streets, has undergone extensive renovation in the last two years. It is undergoing final inspections and licencing and should be officially open later this month.

Cook said Old East Village has become a place to experiment and test new concepts.

“It increases street activity. We get the animation and that’s what’s going to change our street,” he said.

Cook said he originally planned to put another Fire Roasted Coffee cafe and/or a craft brewery into the building but got into “a bit of a pickle” over rising construction costs, which inspired the new concept and the new name.

Cook plans to have music events and art shows twice a month at the Pickle and have food trucks stop by.

Bar service and catering will also be available for private events such as the 75th birthday party he recently held for his father.

Cook has experience helping new businesses get started at the Western Fair farmers’ market and growing their businesses at the London Food Incubator. He said the Pickle Social Club gives them a shot at the logical next step — a temporary storefront location.

“For $100-150 you can have a pop-location for a day or a weekend.”

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Studio 121 – UnLondon

211 King St.

Shortly after the beloved Novack’s store closed in 2012, the space was transformed into a shared working space for digital businesses and an incubator for new retail businesses who move in for about six months. The current retail tenant is Nimue’s Closet, which sells “all things mystical.”

Executive director Titus Ferguson said the communal space fills a vital gap, providing equipment, mentorship, and development new small enterprises would never get on their own in an suburban strip plaza.

“Shared space is the practical application of the sharing economy. We do something through collaboration,” said Ferguson.

Successful “graduates” include Brown & Dickson Bookstore, Runout Records and Rebel Remedy.

Studio 121 also has a deal to share technical equipment and programming with Innovation Works a couple of doors west.

Hacker Studios

252 Dundas St.

Hacker Studios started the trend toward shared space four years ago opening it doors to tech start-ups.

Run by Joel Adams and Amanda Stratton, Hacker Studios, now occupies two and half floors with the vegetarian eatery Globally Local and some pop-up retail partners on the ground floor.

Adams said about 6-12 new businesses are tenants in the century-old red brick building on any given day and about 100 have moved through in the past four years. The space is also used for a variety of tech meetings.

He said the concept has evolved from open space only to a mix of small private offices and open concept. The tenants share kitchen and meeting space and often collaborate.

“You know you’re not alone. Entrepreneurs have good and bad days but they can collaborate and get moral support”

Innovation Works

201 King St.

The old GoodLife Fitness building is now bustling with 175 businesses, agencies, academic institutions and individuals, renting space and time.

Some have private offices. Some work on bean bags and kitchen tables. They can all fit into the four-storey 32,000 sq. ft building because of concepts such as “flex desks” where tenants can work on their laptop for 20 hours a month.

Innovation Works, which opened last year has a “50-50” rule for renting to an equal number of profit and non-profit tenants to ensure a good mix.

Director Lore Wainwright says collaboration is key and the tenants save by sharing everything from Wi-Fi to washrooms.

“We can work within our own rules. The people here make the policy. These companies are thriving because they do not have the constraints,” said Wainwright.

London Food Incubator

630 Dundas St.

It has taken less than a year but the London Food Incubator is full.

The anchor tenant is the Old East Grocery store and the rest of the space is shared by a baker, a jam and preserves maker, a vegan food outlet, a Meals on Wheels operation and Fire Roasted Coffee.

Manager Michelle Navackas said the Food Incubator, opened by Dave Cook, is a logical progression from the Western Fair Farmers’ Market that gives businesses a start but is only open on Saturdays.

She said the benefits of sharing space are obvious to the newest tenant Ian Kennard, owner of Willie’s, a catering and food business that operated on Wellington Street for 33 years.

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