Around the Clock: day begins at Petaluma’s two thriving co-working hubs

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This is the fourth installment in a nine-part series. We began at midnight, and each week have skipped ahead a few hours, jumping from place to place and person to person, moving around the clock to capture the colorful details, conversations, and activities that make up an average day in and around Petaluma. Next week, at noon, we’ll spend an hour with the crew, pilots and old-times who spend their time at the Petaluma Municipal Airport.

It’s 9:02 a.m. — technically just two minutes after Keller Street CoWork has officially unlocked its doors for the day — and at least half-a-dozen people are already hard at work, their laptops and phones and additional accoutrements arranged to their taste at whichever table, couch, cubicle or chamber-of-silence they’ve selected for the particular task or tasks at hand.

Some have been here a while already. Others are on their way, or planning to arrive at noon, or later in the afternoon — or whatever happens to work best for them.

Outside these big wooden doors, all around Petaluma and up and down the freeway, the rest of the world is going about the start of its traditional 9-5 workday - commuting, clocking-in, hoping to impress a boss, all following a predetermined work schedule set up by someone else. Those entrepreneurial folks who work from home, of course, are dealing with different challenges, those of balancing a career with the demands of parenting, housekeeping and the day-to-day distractions of combining work and regular life.

But at Petaluma’s two existing co-working facilities, this one, founded one-year ago, and WORK Petaluma, about three blocks south, the definition of “work day” has been blown to smithereens.

“This is the quietest moment of the day, actually,” says Danielle Stroble, Community Director of Keller Street CoWork. “A lot of our members are just barely rubbing their eyes open at 9 a.m.,” she laughs. “So it’s super quiet here right now, but by 10 or 10:30, that’s when it will be pretty packed and very lively.”

At a large table in the main room, Ingrid Wilson is at work on her laptop. Another member, laptop out, headphones in place, is stationed at a small round table near the window, looking out on Keller Street.

Co-working, for the most part, employs a membership-based model, designed to accommodate folks who need an alternative to working at home or renting their own office. Members pay a monthly fee, for which they have 24/7 access to the facility, seven days a week. Day pass-holders can use the facility from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. At Keller Street, a pair of conference rooms and a lounge are available for rental, and often host meetings of brick-and-mortar businesses in town that lack the space for large gatherings.

Currently, Keller Street has about 55 members, and also rents out six permanent offices to local realtors, plumbers, etcetera, their “shingles” hanging in front of each assigned door. As if on cue, local realtor and KPCA radio personality Barton Smith arrives and unlocks his own office door, chatting with Stroble about her recent vacation.

According to Stroble, the office renters sometimes bring their laptops out to one of the public areas, just for a bit of human connection. Standard members can either use one of the many available tables, chairs or couches spread throughout the 9,000 square foot facility.

“Even with the office renters, everyone loves to pop out and say hi to other regulars, checking up on how the weekend went and all of that,” says Stroble. “One of the main attractions to Co-working is the social aspect. A lot of freelancers who work from home get to missing the contact they once had with other workers, and you wouldn’t believe how often a casual conversation at our large table leads to some creative breakthrough. There is a lot of spontaneous brainstorming that goes on during the average day here.”


This is the fourth installment in a nine-part series. We began at midnight, and each week have skipped ahead a few hours, jumping from place to place and person to person, moving around the clock to capture the colorful details, conversations, and activities that make up an average day in and around Petaluma. Next week, at noon, we’ll spend an hour with the crew, pilots and old-times who spend their time at the Petaluma Municipal Airport.

To that end — the potential for talk and conversation — there are three soundproof “phone booths” at the rear of the place, near the community kitchen. They look a bit like something Apple would pack a giant iPhone in, and once inside, they completely cancel all outside sounds, while also keeping any conversation inside the booth entirely private. The booths are so successful at creating a cocoon of privacy, in fact, that Stroble has had to put up a sign near the booths asking members to use them only phone calls during busy hours.

As an example of how popular they are, at 9:20 a.m., there is already one gentleman inside one of the booths, tapping away on his laptop, and by 9:45 a.m., there is another member at work in a separate booth.

“Everyone loves the phone booths,” notes Stroble.

Another feature at Keller Street is the bank of lockable, custom-made, dedicated desk cubicles, which members can rent so as to safely leave their equipment behind. All other members bring their work supplies and laptops with them when they begin their days. Dominic Del Bene, local producer of comedy events and the founder of Blonde Medicine productions, is already at work in his own cubicle.

“This is all the space I need,” he says. “It’s nice and cozy.”

“The way people work is changing, and that’s what’s been behind the co-working movement,” Stroble says, as three more folks step through the front door and begin searching for the perfect spot to spend their day. “I would say that most people do follow a 9-5, or 10-4 schedule. But some work overnight, or in the afternoons, or come in after a day job to work on some artistic project. Just knowing you have the option of a place to work where you can be productive, and do it on your own terms, that can be a life-changing thing.”

That, certainly, is what inspired the creation of WORK Petaluma, on Fourth Street, founded in 2012 by Natasha Juliana. Petaluma’s original co-working operation, the facility stands near the Petaluma Historical Museum, Having been in operation for seven years, it has built its own large membership of individualistic freelancers, telecommuters and creatives.

It’s now 9:58 a.m., and at WORK, a similar vibe is taking place, though in an environment that boasts a decidedly retro aesthetic Juliana admits was somewhat born of an appreciation for the TV show “Mad Men.”

“The style of the building suggested the ‘60s,” Juliana says, “so we went with it, and people love it. The furniture, the décor, it all has a vintage vibe, which makes for a fun counterpoint with all of the laptops and computers and high-tech stuff our members make use of.”

Firuze Gokce, originally from Turkey, a member at WORK since 2015, likes to set up in the small living room area near the front door. It’s an area Juliana jokingly calls “The No Productivity Zone,” since it’s where a lot of ‘hello, how are you?’ conversations take place.

“I work in the tech industry,” Gokce says, “and co-working is very important to me. It’s how I love to work. Having a co-working opportunity here made it possible for me and my family to live in Petaluma rather than San Francisco or Silicon Valley.”

The front portion of the facility is decidedly more conversation-inviting than other parts of the sprawling assortment of work spaces, which bear sensibly descriptive names like the Brick Room, the Wood Room, the Cloud Room and The Library. In the library, books are arranged by color, rather than alphabetically or by some decimal system. It’s a cool look, all of those red, blue and green books grouped together on shelves.

“We have a lot of writers and programmers,” explains Juliana, dropping her volume as she walks into the adjoining room, where a long table is already about one-third full of folks with laptops or notebooks. One member, Lisa Lim, sits at the long table studying Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” a small harp standing beside her in lieu of a laptop. Down the table a few spaces is Cristina Star, founder of Tru Education, just finishing up a writing project. “Things tend to be a little on the quiet side here,” notes Juliana. “There’s a lot of heads-down working going on, usually, which is why we have the phone booths.”

She indicates a row of booths, which are as charmingly old-fashioned in appearance as Keller Street’s were sleek and futuristic.

“We have a lot of tutors and counselors and consultants who use our smaller rooms to meet with clients,” Juliana explains. “Tuesdays are our heaviest days, partly because we have a coffee social on Tuesdays, which is pretty popular. But we also have off-hours memberships, for people who need a place to work on evenings or weekends. But most mornings, like this, are pretty full with people who used to work out of their homes, or in a local coffee shop, and found that it just wasn’t that easy to get anything done. That’s what co-working is all about. Most people use co-work spaces as an alternative to working at home.”

WORK Petaluma also operates a suite of private offices and meeting rooms in a separate facility across from Penry Park.

“That’s for people who need their own ‘office office,’ but don’t want to deal with leasing their own space,” Juliana says. “My husband and I started this because we were both working at home, and there were just too many distractions. When we started, it was tough because no one knew what co-working was. But look around now.”

It’s 10:36 a.m. As Juliana speaks, the door opens and a man and woman enter, one with an armful of books, the other with a laptop bag and what appears to be a small cooler. After chatting with Gokce in the “No Productivity Zone,” they move off to claim spots near Star and Lim.

“Some of these people have been here the full seven years,” says Juliana. “What began as a place to go to work has become a family. That’s one of the great things about places like this. It’s a place to work, yes, but it quickly becomes a lot more.”

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