There are new tenants at 2120 Central Ave.
Four young entrepreneurs reimagined the once-vacant storefront as a creative commune and study space.
The entrepreneurs are also Augusta University students. Andrew Young, Don Harrell, Jason Webb and Munro Lortie pooled their own money, time and efforts to renovate the space on Central Avenue in what they hope will be the start of a creative space franchise for the area.
A soft-opening on Aug. 27 invited students and locals to come tour the space and get the feel of the energy the owners want to cultivate in this pro-networking arena.
When I heard these young men lay out the plans — a study lounge that has a membership structure where students or professionals can access more and more perks of the space depending on the membership tier — I was a bit skeptical. With Augusta University’s library a mile away and no shortage of coffee shops in the area, what sets this place apart? What makes this worth paying for?
When I sat down with these young men, I asked them that question.
“What sets us apart is that this space is for students by students,” Young said. “We personally know the struggle of having to leave the library when it closes at night. Even though the library staff know me and know who I am, you’ve got to leave at that set time.”
Webb, a videographer by trade, said the creative community is something unique to them.
“If you’re looking for a place to collaborate and network, this is the spot,” Webb said. “We’ve got the snacks to keep you fueled, and the people that are from healthcare to business to creators like myself. I met a graphic designer in here a few days ago, and I’m actually using him on my next project. The people you need are around you. If you see people working at the library, you probably won’t approach them. This is the space for that.”
The four young men watched YouTube and solicited guidance from others in their lives when it came to renovating the space, which was formerly Summerville Art & Custom Framing. Webb said a documentary will be released one day soon that will illustrate how much work went into that process.
“We learned how to do things we never would’ve done otherwise,” Harrell said.
“We collaborated,” Young said. “Just like the whole point of the company, we collab’d on something we never thought we would do.”
During the renovations, a serendipitous meeting took place when Tim McFalls, manager of commercial and retail development at the Augusta Economic Development Authority, passed by the building and noticed the young men working on re-building the interior of the space.
“My focus is Richmond County, and Central Avenue is one of those corridors that connects a lower-income area to the upper-end area. A corridor like that is one we want to ensure vacancies are looked at,” McFalls said. “That building was one of my top 100 list of properties I would like to see occupied in Augusta. These guys were willing to put some sweat equity into this thing so I had them present their business plans to me and I offered some suggestions to them too.”
Two hours before the grand opening on Aug. 27, the young men received a check for $5,000 from the Augusta Economic Development Authority to help them with the costs of starting a business.
“These guys were young and vibrant. And they are a multi-cultural group which is important to me. They displayed determination to get it done and I presented them with an opportunity for us to help them succeed,” McFalls said. “Of course, the market will decide how successful they are. This place makes sense for those late nights because the coffee shops won’t be open. The library won’t be open. At the AEDA, we’re always looking to find ways to increase quality of life.”
The business opened the first week of September, and the owners say the feedback has been positive overall so far, but they’ve also determined ways to make their approach clearer.
“The misconception that some people have had is that you can’t come in without a subscription,” said Young. “You can come in from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., study, hang, have a cup of coffee; you don’t have to pay anything. But after 5 p.m., the doors lock and that’s when the ‘members only’ part comes into play. We have individuals that come in three or four nights a week at 11 p.m. and stay until 1 or 2 a.m. consistently, so we know that is being used.”
Going forward toward midterms and beyond, the owners said they want to build up their social media presence and appeal to more and more students and young professionals.
“Some people say, ‘There’s no way a couple twenty-something guys can do something like this,’ and when people came in for the grand opening, they said ‘You guys really did something,'” Lortie said. “It’s cheesy, but if you put your mind to something, you really can do it.”
Young echoed that, saying, “And we did it as a team. We could not do it individually.”
One thing McFalls said to me particularly stuck out in my mind.
“Just because I don’t like Indian food doesn’t mean I think Augusta shouldn’t have any Indian food restaurants,” he said. “Even if this isn’t a place for you or for me, it fills a need.”
And I hope it does fill that need for students and creatives alike. While I was skeptical at first, meeting with the young men behind this project helped quell some of the concerns I had. I would be thrilled to have been wrong about this one.
Good luck, men.