The trend toward shared working areas arrives

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Contrary to the name emblazoned on its glass windows, the Beauty Shoppe in East Liberty has nothing to do with beauty.

With an atmosphere that combines the feel of an Internet cafe and a professional office, the Beauty Shoppe and other shared working areas springing up in Pittsburgh may be the trendiest option for people nurturing startups and operating businesses outside of a formal workplace.

Co-working arrangements rent desks, conferences rooms and office spaces to users at short-term rates. They typically encourage collaboration among their occupants, and include basic services such as Internet access, printing, faxing and copying. In short, these shared spaces offer the convenience and resources of an office without the commitment of a long-term lease.

"Co-working spaces nationwide are going to pick up because they offer a way to distribute the cost among a lot of people," said Paul Burke, founder of venture accelerator Thinktiv and the Beauty Shoppe's first client. "They let people sign up for what they need, and only what they need."

The co-working phenomenon grew out of San Francisco in 2005 as the brain child of computer programmer Brad Neuberg. Since then, these venues have become popular across the country, holding particular appeal for younger entrepreneurs seeking flexible, low-commitment workplaces beyond their home or local coffee shop.

The Beauty Shoppe's roughly 4,000-square-foot space, like many of its fellow Pittsburgh co-working locations, is a work in progress with clients still moving in and minor renovations left to complete. The property, which is owned by East Liberty Development Inc., is partitioned into conference rooms, offices and a large work area complete with white Ikea desks, colorful floor tiling and walls painted brightly in red and lime green.

One of the larger offices intended for companies with multiple members still bears the words "Beauty Shoppe" in prominent yellow lettering on its windows -- a remnant of the property's previous inhabitants and inspiration for the name of the newly opened co-working business.

"We think about the space as sort of office infrastructure," said Matthew Ciccone, the co-owner of the Beauty Shoppe, which had its soft opening in June. "We didn't want to decide for our users what that infrastructure was going to be."

The Beauty Shoppe is not the only facility experimenting with office infrastructure in Pittsburgh's East End.

In Highland Park, Union Project recently converted part of its facility into 10 co-working spaces available for monthly rental fees. Another co-working space, CommuniTea Office, is slated to open in Garfield in September and will rent out desk spaces on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

CommuniTea Office co-owner Margaret Kerr said her days of lugging books between coffee shops as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh inspired her to open a shared working space. She hopes CommuniTea Office will secure a loan from the Small Business Administration to finance the project.

"We are focused on trying to build a space that allows people to come together and share in the benefits of co-working, which are really motivation, inspiration and productivity," Ms. Kerr said. "We believe that people work better when they're together."

Computer programmer William Jacobs, who plans to move into a space at Union Project this fall, said the interpersonal aspect of co-working is what appeals to him.

"I like it because there are people around," said Mr. Jacobs, who currently commutes 40 minutes to his office in Butler County several days each week. "The days I don't go to my office, I work from home, and I'm isolated. ... At the Union Project, there is a diverse group of people, and I like that about it."

The group of recently opened or soon-to-open co-working services offers roughly comparable membership plans. Monthly leases range from $100 to $175 per user at the Beauty Shoppe, $75 to $100 at the Union project and up to $175 at CommuniTea Office. Pricier packages typically include more services, such as additional personal storage or access outside of regular business hours.

The Beauty Shoppe has about 25 users, Mr. Ciccone said, which he estimates is just enough for the business to break even financially. He aims to add another 10 or so clients and expects to make a profit when the user count increases.

And Mr. Burke, whose business moved in mid-May from the Beauty Shoppe to its own office space in East Liberty, said he thought co-working had found a home in Pittsburgh.

"I think that the market is right for it," Mr. Burke said. "I think the thing that this discussion hinges on is whether Pittsburgh is ready to take its throne as an innovation city."

Alison Griswold: or 412-263-1410.


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