Just over three years ago, Switchyards Downtown Club opened its doors to serve B2C entrepreneurs as a work space, gathering spot, educational resource, and even occasionally, a support group. Hundreds of members and thousands of visitors have passed through the hub that has elevated the profile of the local consumer startup scene.
Though SDC remains focused on startups, in the past three years, it has become much more to other members of the community. The monthly Made In Atlanta event brings in a packed house to cheer the story of a local brand, while others simply come to SDC to find inspiration for their side hustle, get some work done in the coffee shop, or connect with new peers.
“People are craving human connection,” Tavani tells Hypepotamus. “I think a good majority of the people that come to Switchyards for an event, to hang out at the coffee shop or out there, they’re craving just being around other people.”
As Tavani and his co-founder, Dave Payne (now Managing Director at Techstars Atlanta), continued to develop SDC’s programming, Tavani also began to reflect on the value of space. A tech startup guy (the Switchyards duo formerly founded Scoutmob, a daily deals e-commerce platform), Tavani found himself fascinated with crafting and refining the experience of the physical Switchyards building.
The Neighborhood Clubs are the answer to many of the opportunities Tavani sees in how the nature of work — and even the makeup of social gathering — is changing. Part of it is that human connection piece, driven by digital overload and an intrinsic desire for less screen time.
“I think the topic of just getting off our phones, of digital wellness, is going to keep growing,” Tavani says.
Tavani also believes that today’s workforce is less and less in need of a formal office. The theory is a mashup of several trends driving work today, including the growth of freelance, contracting, and the gig economy, the increasing acceptance of remote work, and the popularity of the side hustle.
Instead of work-life balance, Tavani says that people are seeking work-life integration.
That’s how Luke Beard, founder of visual storytelling startup Exposure and an SDC member, weaves his business into his life. He finds himself using Switchyards for much more than an office, similarly to how Tavani envisions members using the Neighborhood Clubs.
“Switchyards is a great solution to the challenge of how work and the workforce is changing. Remote workers, freelancers, and makers all need a place to go that is affordable to get your work done, but most importantly a welcoming place to connect and grow in,” Beard says. He calls the Neighborhood Clubs a “great progression of what Switchyards has started” for the creative community.
Switchyards Neighborhood Club — where its members already are
Tavani wants to open Neighborhood Clubs where there is already a market for this type of “third place” beyond home and office. He’s currently gathering data on what neighborhoods his interested audience identifies with, while assessing spaces across town.
As opposed to SDC (where the team bought and renovated the entire 19,000-square-foot space), he plans to rent and roll these out on a relatively rapid basis, opening 2-3 Neighborhood Clubs at a time. Popular choices include Midtown, Old Fourth Ward, Virginia Highlands, Decatur, Downtown, and Buckhead.
Each space will have a coffee shop, a limited food and bar menu, and room for working, talking, reading, and more.
Tavani is determined to make the Clubs’ food prices very affordable, saying he isn’t planning to make any money off the food. Basic coffee drinks will be free.
“It’s a place where you can get work done and break bread,” says Tavani, “a cross between a coffeeshop, a co-working space, and a country club.”
Neighborhood Club memberships will be in the sub-$50 range. The first few are projected to open in the second half of this year, with a limited pop-up in SDC planned for May to give people a feel for the concept.
“The irony around Switchyards Downtown Club is that it’s actually a B2B brand — we serve businesses,” says Tavani. “I want to create the consumer version of all this.”
Featured photo by Marco Hernandez. Inline photos by Marco Hernandez, Jason Seagle, and Luke Beard.