Before COVID-19-related lockdowns caused the closure of places of business, Pew Research found that 7 percent of U.S. workers had access to flexible workspaces or the ability to telework. Post-lockdown, Gallup Research estimates that 62 percent of the American workforce is working from home.
While a work-from-home office has distinct perks, not least among them the ability to wear pajamas all day, six months into the work-from-home lifestyle, with school-from-home, eat-from-home and Netflix-from-home also taking up space in the house, a return to the office might be more looking appealing.
Many offices might not be ready to welcome employees back inside yet, but a new workplace option recently opened up in Oak Park. Like everything else in this world, the new business is pivoting due to the virus, but finding its original plan might speak to more than wider-than-anticipated audience.
When Trent Stoner leased the Boulevard Arcade building on South Boulevard in Oak Park, the building checked all the boxes that he was looking for to start a new business. He says that when he transitioned out of his job with Bridgestone, he was looking to create a second-act career in real estate and flexible, shared space for business and locals.
He started looking at available real estate in 2018 and says that it took some time to find a place with a history and a story that would also be suitable for CrossFunction Flexible Workspace — his brand of space for both office and events.
“We wanted it to be close to transportation in a robust village,” Stoner said.
An ideal location would have restaurants and shops nearby and be located close to rail stations to provide easy access to and from the city.
He and his partners found the ideal location at 1033 South Blvd. Not only was it within walking distance to the Metra, CTA, dining and shopping, but Stoner says, “It’s a place with tremendous history.”
The building was designed in 1906 by local architect E.E. Roberts as a one-story Prairie Style building. In 1922, Chicago architect Arthur Jacobs added a second story to the building, and it became a women’s indoor shopping arcade made up of boutique stores selling clothing for women.
Over time, the boutiques closed and the building’s façade lost much of its original design. From 2006 to 2008, owners Paul and Leah Beckwith and Rick and Laura Talaske restored the building, returning and rehabbing original details such as the exterior façade, the iron stair rail, tin ceiling and the Greek key-patterned tile floor in the lobby. A door to the vault of one-time tenant Madame Pankow Furs remains as well, although the vault itself has been removed.
Rick Talaske says that when his group purchased the building, the exterior had been “remuddled” extensively over time. With the help of the Oak Park-River Forest Historical Society, they researched what the façade originally looked like. Under the guidance if the village’s Historic Preservation Commission, they restored the façade to its 1920s version.
When Stoner leased the building in early 2020, it was with the intention of creating a flexible, boutique office space for small business professionals who might need a space for a few hours or days a week but did not want a commitment of a long-term lease. That is still the primary draw.
“We make it easy,” Stoner said. “You just come in with your laptop and your phone, and you’re ready to work. There’s no need to worry about furniture, tech stuff or cleaning. And, you can scale up or scale down as your business needs change.”
The first floor features 12 offices with storage lockers and conference rooms, while the second floor also includes 12 offices of varying sizes in the spaces that used to house boutiques.
In total, CrossFunction offers members three lounges, two conference rooms and an atrium café. A first-floor coffee shop is in the next stage. Reception services are available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and mailboxes provide a place to receive work-related mail.
Stoner also points out an unusual perk: a 600-square-foot sound studio designed by Rick Talaske when the building was renovated in 2006. Ideal for podcasts, recording or post-production work, the space adds a unique dimension to the building’s offerings.
“We purchased the building with the intent of adding a sound testing lab,” Talaske said. “Things have evolved in my business, and it wasn’t being used as much, but now it’s being put to excellent use by CrossFunction.”
In re-making the space into small offices, a lot of thought was given to creating an ideal work environment. Stoner says that the offices were designed to contain sound. Sound clouds in the ceiling and cork flooring help diffuse noise, and new age phone booths offer places to make calls with complete privacy.
In the wake of COVID-19, CrossFunction has also implemented stringent cleanliness standards, including nightly cleaning service, air filters, distanced seating and plenty of touchless dispensers of hand sanitizer.
Stoner says that as people begin to tire from working from home, they might feel more comfortable returning to work at a place like CrossFunction.
“At 11,300 square feet, we have the whole building,” Stoner said. “In this post-COVID world, you’ll know everyone and limit exposure. No crowded elevator rides.”
As the pandemic significantly altered how people were conducting business, Stoner realized there might be more of demand for people looking to escape their home workplaces with a quieter, professional environment. He also saw an uptick in interest from non-business clients. A local college student has become a member and uses the space away from home to immerse in studies.
Stoner is looking forward to being a part of the Oak Park community. Already, CrossFunction has partnered with the Oak Park Art League to showcase art in the lobby on a rotating basis. Local groups can also rent conference rooms by the hour on a first-come, first-served basis.
On Saturday, Sept. 26, CrossFunction will host a community open house outdoors from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with small, socially distanced tours available.