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Friday, September 25 Business

As office suite operators reel, hybrid Ridgefield startup moves ahead

Kelsey Hubbard Rollinson has already seen the evidence that coworking space has more relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Rollinson and her spouse launching Recess PlayWorks in Ridgefield in the weeks prior to “stay at home” orders and school closures last March.

But the outlook for remote work centers remains foggy, as last week’s bankruptcy filings suggest for dozens of Regus office suites and co-working suites nationally, including three locations in New York City. Regus has 16 locations in Connecticut, including in Bridgeport, Danbury, Greenwich, Norwalk and Stamford.

After mass office closures extending into the summer months, many office employers have kept their remote working plans in place for the start of the school year, given the uncertainty of whether school precautions will be effective in warding off any outbreaks of COVID-19 to force new closures.

The Rollinsons had opened Recess Playworks in the weeks leading up to the school and work closures in Connecticut, two years after Work the Ridge opened a coworking center next steps from Ridgefield Town Hall.

While Work the Ridge closed this year, Ridgefield nevertheless remains with multiple options after B@Work opened entering September at the 38 Grove Street office complex just off Danbury Road, with the company also having a location in Westport.

The Rollinsons offer a different twist on co-working, with on-site learning support and activities for the kids of working members. But with a summer of uncertainties surrounding coronavirus, Kelsey said that Recess has been sought out a much for its varying classes that include art, creative coding and Spanish.

With Tropical Storm Isaias knocking out power to much of Ridgefield for days, Recess Playworks got additional business from parents needing an internet connection and power outlet to keep up with the demands of the job.

“It was pretty quick,” Rollinson said. “We were saying, ‘We have power, we have air conditioning, we have Internet — coffee! It was great, a lot of people brought their kids.”

B@Work manager Narci Anteaga said Isaias resulted in a lot of inquiries for its Westport space. B@Work is run by Mercator Capital, which owns the building at 38A Grove Street and created the space after not finding an immediate replacement tenant for Owl Cyber Defense Solutions following its relocation to Danbury.

“We have been getting more and more every day,” Anteaga said. “We do get people saying, ‘We’re not sure, we want to wait and see what happens ... [when] kids to get back to school.”

The 38 Grove St. complex also houses the Suites on Grove office suites, with other options in town including the Executive Pavilion Suites down the road at 90 Grove St.

Recess was already booking its space for kid’s events in advance of the coronavirus emergency, with Kelsey recalling that she got her earliest inkling of what was to come in February after a mother reserved Recess Playworks for her child in April. With a background in global commodities trading, she asked about how Recess would handle the reservation in the event of any closure due to COVID-19.

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As it turns out, Kelsey is convinced she had already contracted and pulled through coronavirus herself, at the end of December after coming down with a respiratory ailment that forced her to sleep upright.

With Recess forced to close just weeks after its launch as a result of Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency order in March, like other businesses the Rollinsons pivoted their kids activities to Zoom, creating “art box” sessions with paints, crayons, paper and other materials. As offices were allowed to reopen at half capacity, Recess moved its on-site classes outdoors.

Entering the school year, Recess added “remote learning pods” on weekdays to provide help for kids during their hybrid school schedules as parents work, with 10-day and 20-day options available with varying prices.

Rollinson said it is too early to tell whether the pandemic will give coworking spaces a long-term boost, as some companies adopt permanent “work at home” policies whether for health considerations or to save on rent. That could make coworking more appealing for in-person meetings, as well as for workers wanting the option of experiencing the camaraderie a coworking environment provides.

“To be honest, I think the jury is still out,” she said. “A lot of offices were staying closed and people were coming in saying, ‘We’re not sure whether we are going back ... in the fall or not.’ That will get sorted out.”

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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