It was December 2013 and our world was crumbling.
We had just been told that our beloved King West building (our only location at the time) was about to be sold to real-estate developers. In the words of our then-landlord, "You boys will be out on the street!"
By this point, Project Spaces was our whole life. The panic was real.
We immediately began looking for a new space. We knew it had to be reasonably close by so that, in the event of a sudden shutdown at King West, our members would hopefully migrate with us.
Of course that wasn't guaranteed. Nothing was.
We must have toured at least a dozen spaces in the weeks that followed. We made some offers, had some negotiations, but nothing panned out. Now it's January 2014 and time is ticking.
Out of the blue we caught wind of a nearby space that had been sitting empty for a few months. In real-estate speak this means the landlord might be willing to work with a company as unconventional as ours.
Remember it's 2014 and most landlords have never heard of coworking. The concept kinda freaked them out.
As Jeff would say, "Our spirits were about as high as our bank balance," so I can't say we were excited to see the place. We had never heard of the street, and frankly were tired of all the false starts.
But the moment we walked in, we knew our prayers had been answered.
This quaint little building had a great vibe, its layout was perfect, and being a one minute walk from Queen and Spadina was just the icing on the cake.
Who cares that nobody in Toronto had ever heard of Camden Street? We were about to change that.
But not so fast. There was a problem.
Because the floors were only 4,000 square feet, we knew we needed both available floors in order to create our separate lounge and desk areas. But we couldn't afford that, and the landlord knew it.
"So which floor do you want?" he logically asked.
"It's gonna have to be both," we replied.
"You guys are crazy."
We went directly to the landlord with an unconventional pitch:
Let's split the last month deposit in half. We'll give 50% on day 1 and 50% on day 61. Throw in a few months of free rent so we can ramp up, and let's do this.
I think there was an enjoyable novelty in our approach. The landlord thought we were absolutely nuts, but he liked the energy. At the end of the day, if we didn't make rent he could just boot us. The space was empty anyway.
"How are you going to come up with the second half of the deposit?" he once again so logically asked. "We're going to make sales," we answered.
"What if you don't make the sales?"
"Well... we have to."
A handshake later, the deal was done. We took possession of both floors on February 15th and, after many sleepless nights, we opened our doors seven years ago to this day, on March 1st, 2014.
Over those seven years, our Camden Street location has been home to countless startups, small businesses and freelancers looking for a fun, inspiring place to work. We've hosted tons of events, and even managed to expand during the COVID-19 pandemic by introducing The Bunkers (private offices by the day).
"Now wait just a minute," you might be thinking. "Weren't you about to be kicked out of your King West building? Isn't that why you found 20 Camden Street in the first place? What the heck, Neil?"
And you would be right. Our original King West location, which remains open to this day (and has also been expanded) did end up changing owners that year, and has several times since then. To make a very long story short, we're extremely thankful for Toronto's bylaws on heritage properties.
Our members now get to hop between two unique workspaces, just a few minutes from each other.
So what's the point of this story? It's easy to highlight your wins, but those moments of sheer panic, which every entrepreneur will inevitably go through, tend to hide beneath the surface.
This past year has been a tough one for a lot of our members, so we thought we would celebrate Camden Street's seventh birthday by remembering a time when things weren't so certain for Project Spaces.
Let's be honest. They never are. But we're thankful to be surrounded by a resilient community of entrepreneurs who keep us inspired to weather the storms. Here's to many more...
Happy birthday, Camden Street 🥳
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