Aadam and Marissa accept a breastfeeding-friendly workplace award last month from Allegheny County on behalf of The Beauty Shoppe.
In the span of only five years, The Beauty Shoppe has become a fixture in East Liberty. As a co-working space that specializes in providing flexible office space options for East Liberty’s diverse range of entrepreneurs and small businesses, The Beauty Shoppe has always aimed to do things differently, in a way that feels more genuine and less perfunctory than your typical office space. We recently caught up with The Beauty Shoppe’s General Manager, Marissa Fogel, and Head of Culture and Communications, Aadam Soorma, to talk about the evolution of The Beauty Shoppe in East Liberty and beyond.
Can you talk about the origins of The Beauty Shoppe? Where did it all begin?
Aadam: The Beauty Shoppe started in 2011 with a lot of help from ELDI. Our founder, Matthew Ciccone, partnered up with Nate Cunningham when Nate was at ELDI, and they evolved the idea together. The Beauty Shoppe originated as an idea for a flexible office option for entrepreneurs and small groups that needed office space but didn’t want the hassle of signing a long term lease. It was inspired by how technology companies like Google and Apple were providing easy monthly services for small companies that previously had required a lot of time and investment. So The Beauty Shoppe wanted to experiment with bringing that same type of service to office space in order to remove the friction and overhead associated with starting a business.
What were the first steps that Matthew and Nate took to get things off the ground?
Aadam: Matthew and Nate, along with a lot of support and help from ELDI, decided to experiment with their concept in a vacant second floor of 6014 Penn Avenue. The location had an open floor plan, good natural lighting and a lot of elements that they saw as desirable. Matthew and Nate then applied for a loan from Bridgeway Capital to help clean and build out the first space and also to purchase some furniture. The doors of that location — the original Beauty Shoppe — opened in July of 2011. And we are proud to say that we have a handful of our members from that initial opening month that are still with us today.
Where are you guys located now?
Marissa: We have now expanded across the street to the Liberty Bank Building. We moved here around the end of 2014 / beginning of 2015. We initially only had a smaller portion of the building but now we’ve grown into the space in an organic way that’s been really great for us.
What are some of the ways you’ve seen The Beauty Shoppe evolve, other than physically, since you first started?
Aadam: The Beauty Shoppe has evolved from an experiment which started out of a sheer need for some simple office space into truly a growing business. We’ve grown pretty organically to cater to our expanding member base. So as more and more folks came on board, there was a higher demand for more space, faster wifi, access to copying, printing and all the essentials of a day-to-day professional office space. We’ve learned from this experience and also by gathering feedback from our members. Fast forward to today and five years later, the Beauty Shoppe is still here in East Liberty, just across the street, and expanding in Pittsburgh. We’re also excited to announce that we’ll be opening our first non-Pittsburgh location in Cleveland, Ohio by the end of December.
Marissa: Part of that story is also in and around how we do business. As it became clear that things were growing and that we wanted to continue to build something that was not just sustainable but that we could take to other places, that required a lot of thoughtfulness about how co-working is evolving and paying attention to how other companies in the industry are doing business and what we think about their approaches and models. So we started thinking a little more deeply about what we can do to bring a different experience, beyond for the sake of just having differentiation in the model, but mostly because of who we are and how we believe people want to do work and how we can support them in their work.
What are some of the major differences you see between The Beauty Shoppe and other co-working spaces?
How does The Beauty Shoppe get involved in the community; do you have any programming that helps people feel invested in the neighborhood?
Marissa: So one thing that I think shines beyond programming is just the genuine passion and excitement all of us have for being here in this neighborhood. You know, so many of our members have been in this community for a long time. We have people who have been spending time in East Liberty for 5, 10, 20 years, and that, at the foundation, provides a certain level of connection and enthusiasm for the neighborhood. But as new companies start to come into the area, whether it’s AlphaLab or Thrill Mill, or nonprofit organizations like Repair the World, it’s important for us to stay connected. And beyond that, we even have a wonderful relationship with another co-working space in East Liberty called Stack, which provides a very different experience for their members than what we do here at The Beauty Shoppe. It’s important for us to maintain those positive relationships. So that is really at the core of all that we do to engage the community, just continuing to build those relationships and foster those genuine connections. In terms of programming, something that has been really important for us to think about is less “how do we provide more happy hours or breakfasts?” and is more in and around “how do we enhance the value of the membership here to make the lives of our members better?”. So the kind of partnerships that we’re fostering really are in and around providing opportunities for our members to have access to more resources.
A couple of partnerships that we have formed recently are with TechShop and Zipcar. Those two relationships are great for continuing to provide access to makers space or the ability to do your business in and around Pittsburgh easily. They allow us to reduce the cost for our members while also sending a message to those in the community that we are invested in a cooperative lifestyle, and that we want to continue to invest our energy and time into businesses that are like-minded. We also have relationships with places like The Yoga Hive, which is just up the street in Garfield, providing our members with access to local fitness and wellness facilities that are easily accessible for them, because they’re close to our location and affordable for small businesses. But again, at the core of it, what we’re really hoping to do is provide opportunities that make the lives of our members better or easier.
“One thing that I think shines beyond programming is just the genuine passion and excitement all of us have for being here in this neighborhood.”
How has the community influenced The Beauty Shoppe’s development?
Aadam: I manage a lot of our day-to-day marketing and media and some of our focus in the last couple of months has been on photography, storytelling and around really celebrating the work happening here in our community at the Beauty Shoppe, but also around Pittsburgh. If you were to browse some of our efforts to re-brand or just polish the brand on Instagram and Twitter, you’ll see that we’re trying to really highlight what is happening here in Pittsburgh so that folks that are natives can enjoy it, but also to foster a new image outside of that. We’re seeing that a lot of what’s happening in the market in respect to co-working seems to be driven by this idea that you have to hustle, that it’s very masculine, and it can be sort of this cheer-leady, pushy, “bro” mentality. Whereas, at The Beauty Shoppe, I think it’s more about providing a beautiful space that you feel like you’re at home in and where you can pursue your life’s work. That’s a very PR / Marketing response but I’ve been trying to convey that in our approach to the blog and to the marketing and media. So far, it’s gotten some good feedback and we’ve been appreciative of that. It’s been nice to see that a co-working company can do something beyond just the day-to-day office share and celebrate the work happening here in Pittsburgh.
As companies at The Beauty Shoppe grow, do you see them staying in the neighborhood?
Marissa: Yeah, something that’s interesting is oftentimes people come to us for one reason and end up staying. One of our members, John Davis, he actually has been attending mortuary school on Baum Blvd. for the last year. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that program, but that school has been there for almost 100 years. He came to us as a student when he was finishing up his getting his funeral license. When his student membership ended, he decided he wanted to stay on with us, and now, he is working with the Penn Forest Natural Burial Park in Verona. It’s a place that uses biodegradable caskets and no embalming, and the whole process is very different from that of the traditional burial industry. So when he joined their organization, he decided that he wanted to stay connected to the community. He really loved what he had been building at The Beauty Shoppe and in East Liberty and thought it was invaluable for him to stay here. And that circles back to what I was saying at the very beginning. I think of our members, and they’re such a diverse group of people. I mean, how many co-working spaces do you think can say that they have undertakers as members? It’s really wonderful to think about the interesting and diverse work that people are doing here, and I could honestly sit here and talk about our members all day long and just how interesting and cool and wonderful they are.
If you could sum up your experience in East Liberty in a few words what would they be?
Marissa: As I said, some of us have been around and hanging out in this neighborhood forever, and I’ve been hanging out here since the early 2000s. So, for me, history is one of the first words to come to mind, and not in a cliche way, but just in a way that this neighborhood has always been a part of my story, and it just happens to be somewhat of a coincidence that I ended up back here. I was parking next to ELDI and The Beauty Shoppe when those buildings were still completely run-down and none of these businesses were here, so maybe nostalgia is even a better word. Another thing that I realized this morning is that I recently got rid of my car, and I’ve been walking and biking to work. I live in Highland Park, and as I walk down Sheridan past the Home Depot, it’s so quiet and peaceful back there. It’s just birds and trees, and you walk past the East End Cooperative Ministry and they’re always out and engaging with people on the street. And it’s kind of a continuation of my experience of Pittsburgh: where you’re in this quiet little world and then all you have to do is cross over onto Penn Avenue and it’s totally alive. It’s bustling. There are people out on the streets engaging each other, cars, buses and you suddenly remember that you’re in this vibrant, urban environment. So I guess vibrant is another word I would use to describe East Liberty.
Aadam: I moved to Pittsburgh in 2012, so I might be kind of late in the game, but as I’ve grown accustomed to the neighborhood one word that comes to my mind is non risk-averse. People here are very willing to start something new. It’s something that I’ve noticed is a little different from my hometown in Ohio. People there are a little more averse to risk, but in Pittsburgh, there’s this collaborative, inquisitive environment and people just want to get in there and try something. We’ll talk to folks in our community here at The Beauty Shoppe that are the most basic flex member, and they’re in a couple of days per week working on an idea or a side hustle or something. I love seeing that from the people here in this community in East Liberty. And as I get more accustomed to the changes; the dining, the food and beverage, the bar scene, I notice that the people are just so genuinely friendly. I know that sounds kind of cliche talking about Pittsburgh as a “liveable, friendly city”, but you really feel it when you’re in and out of Kelly’s and the Ace Hotel and Pizza Taglio, really all of the small businesses in the neighborhood. There’s nothing that makes me happier than when I have a visitor coming into Pittsburgh and they want to go out and grab a bite to eat or drink, and usually, the first neighborhood I bring them to is East Liberty because I know that there’s a good, funky, inclusive vibe that they may not feel in their respective hometown.
“It’s bustling. There are people out on the streets, engaging each other, cars, buses, and you suddenly remember that you’re in this vibrant, urban environment.”
Thanks, Aadam and Marissa for shedding some light on The Beauty Shoppe’s journey and place within East Liberty!
*Photos are courtesy of The Beauty Shoppe and Ryan Neeven.