In the Spring of 2011, I (Katie) was at my wits end with my job. I felt unappreciated and like I had way more potential than what was being required of me. I looked for jobs. And looked for jobs. And looked for jobs. No dice. After reading an article on coworking and discovering that, at that time, there were absolutely no proper coworking spaces in Durham, I thought to myself “I’d be great at that.” With my background in communications, office management, and customer service, it seemed like a perfect fit. For a few weeks I researched, but when it came time to make moves, I retreated. I couldn’t muster the confidence to ask other people to believe in my idea.
Fast forward about six months.
I was having lunch one day with a friend at Foster’s Market and, no doubt, complaining about my job. She said “Why don’t you do that coworking thing you talked about before?”
“I don’t think I can do it alone.” I responded.
But I wasn’t happy with that. I wanted to do it. I just had no support or accountability. No one to say “Yeah. That makes sense. Go for it.” That very evening, I received an email from my good friend Megan Jones (an oil painter with no place to paint) asking me if I wanted to “try something crazy.” She wanted to put together shared art studio space and she knew about my coworking idea. Why not combine the two?
9 days later, I was laid off from my job.
For the next 8 months, I lived in coffee shops and in the offices of anyone in town who would agree to meet with me. Megan and I both had earned degrees in Humanities and I was convinced that we couldn’t possibly start and run a successful business, but I was also convinced that if we failed, it wasn’t going to be for lack of trying.
8 months and one Indiegogo campaign later,
on May 22nd, 2012, Mercury Studio - a community-minded coworking, event, and studio space - opened its doors in downtown Durham.
By the time we opened, we had learned the value of a place to work - a place to have meetings, to share successes and failures, and to be supported and held accountable for going after your dreams. We had needed that place and so we were very happy to create it.
Over the next year we added four monthly community events to our plate: Art Salon, Cinema Series, the Listening Room, and groundworkk.
The Art Salon brought together artists of all kinds, as well as patrons and curators, to give and receive feedback for works-in-progress.
The Cinema Series allowed movie-loving members of the community to show their favorite films and to get people talking about them.
The Listening Room gave a voice to local songwriters and their audiences with a unique post-set Q&A dialogue. It also created another paying gig for local musicians.(!)
groundworkk provides a venue for local projects/organizations/businesses to pitch their ideas to a live audience and receive feedback and maybe even some cash!
It was an amazing struggle. We learned A LOT. Along with introducing brilliant new elements of our operation, we had to let go of others - our shared art studio concept never got any traction, and so we ended up using that space for events and moving our two artists into what was a small conference room. This was a disappointment, but also a great example of an important lesson: If it’s not working, stop doing it.
At the beginning of 2014 we moved to a much larger location on Geer Street.
This move brought with it many challenges and the opportunity for growth. We were able to revive our art studio concept and now have artists working in the space full time. We were also able to partner with a locally-based flash sales site to open The Makery - a retail collective, selling exclusively NC-made and curated goods.
Though the end result has been rewarding, the move was very difficult. We managed the renovation of the new space (previously a 4500 sq ft car garage), which went over time and over budget. We’ve taken on debt, we lost some members, and we’re a bit worn, but Mercury Studio stands, and has a larger place than ever in Durham’s independent community. We’ve continued to sign up new members, and sales in our shop continue to increase.
We absolutely love what we’ve built, but we also know that it has more potential than we can even imagine right now, which is why we’re very excited to see what the future holds.
To all those who've supported us from the beginning, we say a gigantic
We couldn't have done it without.
To those who are just learning about us right now. We can't wait to meet you.