Ok, I admit it. Last April, when Staples announced that it was partnering with Workbar, the Boston-based constellation of co-working spaces, I was skeptical. Sure, I’ll head to a big-box store for Post-Its, but who would want to work in a Staples itself?
Now, after seeing the new space, I’m less wary. The Brighton site on Soldiers Field Road, which also happens to be the original Staples location, is one of three store-within-a-store concepts that Staples and Workbar unveiled on Tuesday (the others are in Danvers and Norwood). The effort is a step forward for both companies as they try to respond to the changing way Americans work.
Inside the store, the Workbar space is set back from the retail aisles, and there’s a path on the carpeting that leads to its glass doors. Peter Scala, Staples’ executive vice president for merchandising, jokingly compared it to a yellow brick road.
Enter the 3,500-square-foot, awkwardly-arranged room and you’ll find all the trappings of the innovation economy. Smart Boards and large interactive screens, free-flowing coffee and snacks, and quirky touches like an AstroTurf lined “courtyard” with a tiny putting green. Another remarkable addition: actual sunlight, as the architect punched holes through the ceiling to add skylights. It’s the last thing you’d expect to see in a big-box store.
So what’s it like to work here? Tatiana Ivan and Evin Charles Anderson, who run the video production company Waverley Knobs, have been trying out the space for the last few weeks. They told me they have an office in Allston, but were tired of landlords and, frankly, kind of sick of sitting in a room staring at themselves. Also, they hate networking. Now, people come to them.
“On the weekends when we’re here we see people peering in through the windows,” said Anderson.
The duo each pay $130 a month to be members of the space, and say they’ve already dipped into the Workbar network, attending a gallery night at the company’s Somerville outpost last week.
Sure, they acknowledged, it was a little weird showing up to work at a Staples (without the intention of buying printer ink). But Ivan said that she sees a direct line between the concepts. She always enjoyed visiting Staples for the sense of possibility she gets wandering the aisles.