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Foundry 66 on comeback after COVID interruptions

James Hodge of Haj Wellness started his business at Foundry 66 in the old Norwich Bulletin building at 66 Franklin St. in the spring of 2021.

The retired Coast Guard Chief Food Specialist started as a "flex member," utilizing open seating at tables and couches. Once he finished school, he switched to a traditional office. Periodically, he rents additional space at Foundry 66 for his dance, yoga, workout-training and painting classes, which he promotes on Instagram.

"This place has allowed me to slowly, steadily just build my business," said Hodge, who will also be offering massages as soon as he receives his state license.

Already, his dance classes have drawn from Hartford, Rhode Island, New York and Boston. Hodge said there are many things he likes about Foundry 66. "Location, location, location. It's downtown. It's easily found."

New businesses are signing up at Foundry 66, because "it fits their budget well," said Community Manager Mary Riley, who was hired by Norwich Community Development Corporation in October 2020. "The value for the amount of money that they're spending is great. They're getting their Wi-Fi, heat, AC, electricity, printing, parking, cleaned facilities, etcetera, all for one very low price."

Clients' other perks include access to their space 24 hours a day/seven days a week, education and networking events, as well as a mailbox and business address that isn't their home's. The renovated, approximately 14,000-square-foot space features conference rooms, a kitchenette and lounge area with couches on each floor and a total of 17 private offices, 19 open cubicles and about 12 open "flex spaces."

While taking a break to recharge, members sometimes play Ping-Pong, chess, cards and board games, or go hiking, or sit for a chat over coffee or tea.

Foundry 66 was significantly impacted at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 and is adjusting to changing times, Riley admitted. They lost about 50 percent of their businesses for numerous reasons: they were afraid or physically unable to come back and/or had child-care situations. Currently, Foundry 66 is at 57 percent capacity.

Because of COVID, Riley said they also couldn't hold any events early on. "We weren't able to really do anything in person. A big part of Foundry 66 is being able to connect with other entrepreneurs, small business owners, professionals (and) like-minded people." Using all the necessary cleaning and other safety precautions (including masks and hand sanitizer), Foundry 66 is now bringing back in-person networking events.

Today, Foundry 66's clients range from individuals to larger companies. "It suits everybody's needs, because it's super flexible," Riley said.

Referring to their corporate client, Staples, she said because of COVID and more people working from home, it has "kind of changed the way that these larger companies think about physical workspace for their staff and this is a direct result of that."

In January 2021, WordCo Indexing Services moved from another location in Norwich to Foundry 66 when their previous building location was being sold. Staff occupies the former Norwich Bulletin's library vault, which offers exposed brick walls, high ceilings, two large windows that overlook city hall and two churches, its original door with a combination lock and space for seven desks.

Sometimes, they utilize the building's conference rooms. Referring to a good rent price and location, Project Coordinator Amy Moriarty said, "We looked around and this was the best option for our needs at this time." Plus, when they first moved in, she said everyone was working remotely and they didn't have to worry about building maintenance or checking their mail, because Foundry 66 takes care of everything.

"We've been very pleased here."

Even though Moriarty doesn't get involved in many of the networking events, she said she does play Ping-Pong sometimes. Moriarty said Foundry 66 is "an interesting idea. It's nice to see other people when you come" in the morning and "say hello to everybody, instead of just being your own little group."

Since January 2020, the following companies have had offices at Foundry 66: NBC-TV, Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, The Salvation Army, Power Copy (copywriter), Empere, LLC (alternative energy inventor), Flowing Waters Massage, Ascension Habilitative Support Services (residential/vocational), Enso Studio (art gallery and artisan shop), Waters Website Developer, CT Moving Helpers, LLC, I-M Technologies, LLC, Chief of Staff, LLC (hospitality staffing), S & T Sports Enterprises, Constant Hustle Comics, Heart-Led Concierge, Midnight Aether (geek alchemy), Federated Insurance, NAACP, Rebel Wear and G-Rod Performance (racing safety equipment, clothing and gear).

Small business packages range from just purchasing an address service with a mailbox (for less than the cost of a post office box) and dropping in for the day for $50, to renting conference rooms for $120 monthly.

The "Flex Plan," which allows clients to utilize any open space on the first floor, including a tiny, enclosed room for private conversations and Zoom calls named the "Phone Booth," costs $140 a month and includes a mailbox, five hours of conference-room time monthly and all the amenities. The Dedicated Desk Plan, which ranges from $250 to $400 depending on the size of the office and location in the building, offers a semi-enclosed, private area and locking file cabinet (most of these spaces come with a powered, adjustable standing desk). Private offices range from $400 to $1,200. Business people can also join for a month or a season and no one pays security fees, thereby removing possible barriers to starting a business, Riley said.

Reflecting on Foundry 66 and her friend, colleague and NCDC's former president, Jason Vincent, who died on Dec. 30, 2020, Riley said, "This place was a big part of Jason's vision for the community to have a space for businesses, entrepreneurs, companies, those looking to get started. A creative space, a welcoming space, an educational space — all of those things in one centralized location in downtown to help revitalize downtown and bring new life to Franklin Street."

The Cultural Coalition is one of Foundry 66's first tenants. Formerly working out of donated space within NCDC, the organization moved over in July 2017, soon after NCDC began managing the space.

"Part of our role is to help creative businesses grow and to sustain and to thrive. So for us, it was just another opportunity to be around other businesses and have access to people and then co-working and obviously all the amenities here," Executive Director Wendy Bury said. She added that Foundry 66 is "a great place" to connect with the community.

Business professionals "and people from the city come to this space to meet with different businesses, from the government officials to city officials to board meetings to their own customers and clients."

Bury believes, "It's just as important to get to know people socially — in order to build those business relationships." Holiday and social "get-togethers" such as "Wine Down Wednesday," morning coffee and different lunch activities (sometimes with speakers) organized by NCDC offer so many opportunities "to just get to know other businesses," without having to get involved with planning the events, she said.

For more information about Foundry 66, call (860) 887-6964 or go online to foundry66.com.

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