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'Coworking Space' in Uptown in the Works

UPTOWN — The life of a work-from-home professional sounds like a sweet deal but comes with caveats, said Uptown resident Nicole Vasquez, who hopes to open a members-only "coworking space" in Uptown with the plight of other office-less professionals in mind.

"My kitchen table office works well in the morning when I'm drinking coffee and eating my breakfast," said Vasquez, a 29-year-old marketing professional born in north suburban Lincolnwood. "But after a certain amount of time you're just getting distracted, getting laundry or saying, 'Oh hey, there's the fridge, let me get a snack again ... Oh look at this old photo album I found.'"

Vasquez said she hopes to raise $15,000 through a crowd funding campaign this year to launch BLEND Coworking and Community Space. Blend would be an alternative to working from home or in coffee shops, where Wi-Fi can be spotty and there are also distractions such as loud music.

But the idea is about more than providing a work space.

Vasquez said she eventually wants BLEND to "be like a modern day community center," where people can come and work and learn and engage issues with each other. She wants to highlight individual small businesses, civic groups and community organizations so community members can keep tabs on cool happenings — and see how they can contribute.

It will be for "anybody from students to retirees, anybody who is interested in learning who is also interested in meeting new people," said Vasquez, who has a bachelor's degree in marketing from Columbia College Chicago and an MBA from Loyola University Chicago.

She said she found an "amazing" 4,200-square-foot space for Blend in a second-floor office loft at 1025 W. Sunnyside Ave., which is owned by Flats Chicago. Vasquez is looking for donors to help get things started in 2014, which means $15,000 to pay rent and utilities for a few months and furnish the space.

Keith McCormick, executive director of Uptown's chamber of commerce, said "we're hoping that she can get this project off the ground because I think it's a really interesting idea."

"The creative class in Uptown is growing, and rather than have to rent a larger space for themselves or try to make something work in the corner of their apartment, this would be a great option to have," McCormick said.

McCormick said the chamber has asked her to attend its meetings to introduce the idea to professionals and businesses in its membership.

"We just hope that enough people learn about it, support it and take part," McCormick said.

Vasquez said she started doing events last year to bring professionals together via dinner parties and other gatherings where they could learn from people both inside and outside their career field and exchange ideas.

Her dream was always to have a physical space for her events, she said, adding that she's been inspired by networking and professional development events at Downtown coworking spaces such as 1871 and Grind.

"I would love to bring what's going on Downtown to Uptown," she said.

She's looking for individuals and small businesses to sign up for BLEND memberships. RoboToaster, a small creative agency that does everything from website building to graphic design and content marketing, is already down with the idea.

Uptown resident Andrew Jesernig, 26-year-old co-founder of the company said "working from home and coffee shops is getting old pretty quickly." Interacting with other people during the workday "keeps you more energized."

"Sitting here by myself all day, it's a bit tough to do that," said Jesernig, whose company has two full-time workers and five part-timers. "Outside the obvious benefit of just having a place for all of us to get together consistently and being able to collaborate in more of a creative space, I think the interaction with other people that are working there could be super helpful."

The idea of co-working spaces has "grown tremendously in the past few years," Jesernig said.

"It's all relatively early in the process, but I think what Nicole is doing is awesome so far, and I think she's definitely got a plan in place that we'd love to be a part of," he said.

Vasquez, a 10-year resident of Uptown, said she loves Uptown and hopes to contribute to erasing stigma associated with the area.

"I hate saying it's up and coming, because I already feel like it's well-established," she said. "But I think people who maybe have that idea of Uptown being sketchy still, if they come they'll say 'Wow, it's changing.'"

To donate to the BLEND project, click here.