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COVID-19 / Coworking / Jobs / Remote work /

Indy Hall is closing its hub at 399 Market. But Philly’s first coworking space lives on online

Founder Alex Hillman says he's confident "we'll have our own clubhouse again." We asked past and current members to share their favorite memories of the Philly tech icon.

Inside Indy Hall's 399 Market St. space. (Courtesy photo)
As some offices across the city began to formulate “back to office” strategies earlier this summer, members of coworking space and online community Indy Hall had been wondering: When might we get back to in-person work?

Founder Alex Hillman had been getting messages nearly every day, he wrote in a Monday blog post.

“Today we have an update. The answer is … we don’t know,” he wrote. “What we DO know is that we are NOT reopening our space at 399 Market in Philadelphia.”

In an email, Hillman told that other options posed the risk of losing both the space and the business. The team been talking with their landlord for more than a year about the possibility of reopening amid the waning pandemic, and were looking for direction as vaccinations became more widespread. But to make that happen, they’d have to get support to pay back due rent, he said.

“As we explored our options with the landlord’s legal and finance teams, the least complicated option was offered and the one we took,” Hillman said. “While we didn’t necessarily want to move out, we were able to negotiate an unburdened opportunity to rebuild something even better than before and without the pressure of filling a space by a certain date. I consider that a gift.”

It’s a sign of the times, as well as the end of an era for what became Philly’s first coworking space when it launched in 2006. But it’s not the end of Indy Hall the organization.

Indy Hall has long had an online community, and in the pandemic — like most computer-enabled work — it became a lifeline for folks to stay connected when they couldn’t gather IRL. The org offered multiple ways to co-work virtually, including daylong events like Open Hall @ Home, and late last year, Hillman and brand strategist Nicola Black launched Work in Progress, a virtual community and accelerator for solopreneuers. And recently, Indy Hall launched a “summer camp” for virtual work and connection, with a second session coming this fall.

When some folks were feeling out of touch with their workplaces and communities over the past year, some members felt more involved. Bon Alimagno, who’s worked remotely for a few jobs at Indy Hall for a few years, told us last year he felt more in tune than ever thanks to their digital effort.

“But what Indy Hall provided then with its physical space is what it provides now with its digital spaces,” Alimango told us last May. “I needed anchor points. I needed places I could vent about a bad day. I needed people to have a happy hour with. And that’s been this community.”

For now, the space at 399 Market St. is closing, Hillman said. They likely won’t return there, but in-person gathering and coworking isn’t off the table. Indy Hall is still a community, and there’s still places to connect, Hillman said.

“Some of those spaces are online. Some will be in person again. Some will be borrowed,” he wrote. “I’m confident we’ll have our own clubhouse again once it’s clear what makes the most sense.”

They’ve said goodbye to spaces before: 399 Market St. was the community’s third address, from 2,000 square feet on tiny Strawberry Street off Market to 4,400 square feet on the second floor of 20 N. Third St to its most recent location on the third floor of the Colonial Penn building near Fourth and Market.

Indy Hall’s original Third Street location. (Photo by Mark Makela for The New York Times)

Nico Westerdale, a self-employed fractional CTO, has been in the Indy Hall community since its Fourth Street location. He has fond memories of members cooking full-blown meals in the communal kitchen.

“I was gutted to hear that 399 Market will be closing,” he said in a Slack message. “So many good memories of being there, and the space on 4th street before that, it’s hard to pick one thing out.”

Black, who collaborated with Hillman on Work in Progress, also said it’s hard to narrow down her favorite memories of being in the space, but the serendipitous one-on-one chats in the kitchen made the most impact. She’s been a member of a lot of coworking spaces, she said in an email, and while some were beautiful, they didn’t offer the authentic connection with others that Indy Hall did.

“Being at Indy Hall’s physical space means not being constantly bombarded with start-up culture, raising capital, etc. but rather being part of the solo business owner culture — where we’re working to build and sustain our one person businesses without the desire to be bigger than that,” Black wrote.

The address of Indy Hall actually doesn’t matter much to her.

“In fact, I’d say even with that space closing, the community is thriving. Indy Hall is about the people. And those people live all over the world,” Black wrote. “Yes, the physical space was a great place for Philly members and other visiting members to hang out! But it’s nothing without the people that fill it.”

Alex Hillman having a quiet moment after the first Indy Hall town hall at 399 Market Street.

Alex Hillman having a quiet moment after the first Indy Hall town hall at 399 Market St.

Author and Geekadelphia cofounder Eric Smith recalled a time Cory Doctorow was in Philly on a book tour and they managed to get him to the space.

“The resulting geek-out was incredible,” Smith said. “Not only did the whole local book community get involved and excited, friends from the local makerspaces came down … and it was just this massive group event just packed full of joy. Watching Hive76 (I think!) give Cory Doctorow a 3D printed version of his own head was a delightfully weird moment.”

Not everyone who felt the impact of the community was an actual member. REC Philly cofounder Dave Silver said it was an inspiration while building their own space for creatives.

“It was true community, which is something we always respected and wanted to have for our creative community,” Silver said. “My favorite memory of the space is when REC & Indy Hall collaborated and hosted a panel discussion in their space back in 2019. It was a full room of creators. Super diverse room in terms of backgrounds, professions, etc. There was incredible energy that night — something I will never forget.”

To design strategist Mike Tannenbaum, for years, Indy Hall was “where all the cool kids worked,” he said. He had an office job at a design agency for a while, and it took him several years to venture out on his own, but he eventually joined the community when it was at its Third Street location.

He hasn’t been to the IRL location or visited its online hub for a while, but Tannenbaum said he still feels connected to the community.

“And know that so many of my friends are finding their comforts and camaraderie at the hall,” he said. “That makes me happy, and that will live on. Relationships are the key. It’s not about the space. The woven fabric of relationships will live on in new ways.”

Companies: REC Philly / Indy Hall

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