BLOOMINGTON — Jennifer McDade had been selling vintage items online and monthly at the Third Sunday Market at the Interstate Center as a hobby business.
But in November, she opened Elemental Market & Art Hive in two of eight newly created boutique office spaces in unused second-story spaces re-engineered by downtown property owner Mike Manna.
"When I came up here and I saw the spaces that Mike had put together, they just welcomed this idea of a vintage market," said McDade. "These objects have their own stories and they're kind of living their second or third lives up here."
Manna created the collection of small offices, which he calls Space 417, by knocking through a second-floor wall that separated the historic buildings he owns at 415 and 417 N. Main St. He learned from the McLean County Historical Society that it had been at least 100 years since the second floors were occupied.
"I think that, when I am up here, I love the fact that we're starting to bring space back to life for a second, third or fourth time," said McDade. "For me, this is really sort of a laboratory of how you can, as individuals and as businesses, come together and co-create with one another."
McDade, a former Bloomington alderman who also works for an insurance company, was the third person to open a business at Space 417. She uses one of the offices to house her vintage shop, and a second space, separated by pocket doors, for a community art-making space modeled after the art hive concept started 25 years ago in Canada.
"Since I have come up here, three more businesses have joined us," she said. "So we're at a total now of six really small micro-businesses, all with a very community, creative vibe."
The spaces range in size from 350 to 600 square feet, with monthly rental rates from $200 to $575.
In addition to being affordable, the spaces have provided the six female entrepreneurs an opportunity to form "a community of support" among themselves.
Jessica Worland located her photography business there in early January.
"While the boutique offices at Space 417 on Main Street are not traditional co-working spaces — we each have our own doors and pay rent individually — we're getting more than just space from the arrangement," said Worland.
"We've created a community of support, inspiration and co-creation that's allowing us to grow our impact that was previously limited by working from home," she said.
Allison Carr and Amy Wolfe are renting one of the spaces for an art studio where they can work and show their artwork.
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"It's nice that (Manna) is doing something for the buildings. He actually took this space and made it into something really cool," said Wolfe.
Some upper floors in other buildings downtown are not being utilized, "and they are going to waste," said Wolfe. "They're just decaying because nobody takes care of the them."
Kirsten Hotelling Zona, a poet, life coach and Illinois State University professor who teaches poetry and several literature courses, was the first person to lease a space there.
After reading a Pantagraph article about Manna's renovation, she called him immediately.
"It was 3 in the afternoon. The next morning I came and saw it at 9, and I leased it the next day," she said. "What drew me to the space is Mike considers this whole collection of spaces to be an artistic expression."
"It's not just a real estate venture," Hotelling Zona added. "He came in and navigated this space with an artist's eye ... leaving what belongs and cleaning up what doesn't. Building the skylights, but leaving the plaster walls — I really appreciated that nuance in his own eye. I felt like this space was perfect for what I want to do."
She opened Learn to Thrive!, a business that grew out of her vision of having a physical space and a concept about learning as the core of thriving.
Learn to Thrive! welcomes creators to work, play, teach and learn in "an artistically inspiring, natural light-filled space" by providing a variety of rental options for individuals and organizations to use her space, said Hotelling Zona.
Sarah Nannen Coaching and Merkai Studio Six round out the six businesses in the space.
Only one space remains available, but an interested party is actively pursuing it, Manna said this week.