“You’ll notice there’s no keg here,” The Yard founder Morris Levy said, pointing through a clear glass conference room wall and towards a tiny kitchen. We’re right in the middle of the Brooklyn-based company’s latest expansion: a four-story, 23,255-square-foot space in Philly’s Midtown Village neighborhood. (Check out photos here.)
Mind you, the keg comment is quite a rare phrase to hear from a coworking exec these days. It’s a field in which companies constantly try to one-up each other on their beer selection. Which one of them more varied, which one more artisanal. But the no-beer policy of sorts, enforced across the company’s nine locations, is a telling sign of The Yard’s identity, Levy explains.
“People are here to run their business,” the father of six said in a rich Brooklyn accent. “We attract a [type of] company that’s more mature. That doesn’t mean the members are older. It means they’re more serious about their business and that they want a place where they can focus. They don’t want someone hitting the tap or playing foosball in the middle of the day. It’s a distraction.”
The space’s layout (mostly private offices, the biggest of which can house a team of up to 20 people) is commensurate with that vision. So far, the companies that are there (or plan to move in within the next weeks) are in spaces like marketing, interior design and real estate. The balance leans toward agencies and services-based companies, not so much product-focused startups.
The Yard has had its Philly expansion in the works since 2015, right around the time MakeOffices and WeWork also started laying eyes on Philadelphia. Subtract the catalyst of venture moolah and you’ll understand (in part) why the bootstrapped camp took a bit longer to get settled.
The other piece of the puzzle has to do with the lengthy overhaul process of the Steele Building (Curbed Philly has some impressive shots of the building going back to the sixties). A few original details from the 1912-erected building, like cool-lookin’ columns and exposed brick, still remain.
“We didn’t rush,” Levy said of the site selection process. “We combed the city looking for the right spot and this location was the right one. This side of the city has that real neighborhood feel. Some neighborhoods, they push them to gentrification too hard and they lose their” — Levy here gestures as if he’s grasping for something between his fingers as he finds his next word — “flavor.”
Less than a block away, some argue, a process similar to what Levy describes is underway as part of the renovation of The Gallery at Market East. Formerly a hub for disenfranchised North and South Philly inhabitants, some fear the incoming designer shops and brewpubs will take away from that essence Levy was trying to pinpoint.
From an industry-specific standpoint: where does The Yard fit into Philly’s coworking scene, in which the WeWorks of the world compete with homebrewed options like Benjamin’s Desk and City CoHo? More importantly, how does it plan to stand out among them?
“It’s not very different than New York in that respect,” Levy says. “Because we do have the WeWorks and the ‘mom-and-pop shops.” In his view, connectivity and culture are what will let The Yard make its stance. “The amount of space that we take is designed around manageability of that community,” Levy said. “If this space were bigger, would we make more money? Sure. But we’d lose that … essence,” Levy said again grasping at thin air.
Perks like a members-only mobile app called The Backyard are the selling point, Levy said. It’s an interface that offers access to a jobs board, events calendar and conference room booking. It also, according to the founder, lets members enjoy access to a “larger network” and connect to companies elsewhere.
Thought it’s taken no venture capital so far, Levy concedes it may be important for the growth of the company to “take some money eventually.” With upcoming D.C. and Boston locations, The Yard may soon add a bit more weight to its “network” selling point. Will Philly’s tech ecosystem bite? We’ll be watching.