Generally, taking an empty storefront and turning it into a business means the people involved will fill it with products, decor, furniture, technology and all the things needed to get their operation going. Not so with the new venture from Bangor couple Anne Schmidt and Joshua Schmersal. They’re taking a Columbia Street storefront and leaving it empty. That’s the whole point.
Coespace is a blank canvas for downtown Bangor — anyone can rent the space for an hourly rate and do pretty much whatever they want.
“You want a workshop for your business? We can do that. A 50th anniversary party for your parents? Perfect. A night of short plays? Sure. A Super Bowl party. A small wedding. A few bands can split a night and play here,” said Schmersal, 30, who by day is a software consultant for Eastern Maine Healthcare. “There’s no place in the area to offer an intimate venue for an affordable price. That’s exactly what we’re going to offer here.”
Schmidt and Schmersal, both University of Maine graduates, signed the lease at 48 Columbia St. in October, and over the past two months have gutted the space, which formerly housed Sweetest Thing Weddings, leaving only the clean white walls and the gleaming blonde hardwood floor, and adding only better lighting, a bathroom, wireless Internet, a security system and a small coffee bar. Coespace is named for the Coe Building in which it’s housed, and is also a play on words on the suffix “co-.” Sharing space with lots of different people is part of the concept.
“We wanted to marry the historical nature of this 1920s building with something clean, cool and modern,” said Schmersal, a 2000 graduate of Bangor High School. “It’s a shareable space for Bangor.”
Aside from some chairs and tables stored in the basement, and the option to use an on-site flat-screen TV, there’s nothing else taking up any extra space. Filling the room with people, sound and energy is up to the renter, and his or her imagination.
“We intentionally left it simple because we wanted to keep it affordable and let people have free rein to do what they want,” said Schmidt, 31, a 1999 graduate of Mt. View High School, who also has her own wedding photography business. “Bangor needs a place like this. There are so many arts organizations that don’t have a place to perform. There are so many people that would love to have a workshop or a party or whatever, but don’t want and can’t afford a huge venue. We’re filling that void.”
The initial going rate for Coespace is $25 per hour in four-hour blocks between 8 a.m. and midnight, though Schmidt and Schmersal will work with interested parties to negotiate other arrangements, if needed. The space has about a 50-person capacity, seated, which will be slightly higher for standing-room-only events. There will be coffee and soft drinks available on site; food and alcohol must be brought in by a caterer (there’s no on-site kitchen) or by the renter.
Though the ins and outs of how the venue will work are important, Schmidt and Schmersal get understandably excited when they talk about the possibilities for a blank space such as Coespace.
“I direct the Bangor Community Choir, so this is a perfect spot for workshops and rehearsals,” said Schmersal, who also appears in Penobscot Theatre’s “Annie” this month. “I imagine people having a fancy soiree or a dinner party here. I want to see someone come in here and create an indoor park, like bring in trees and flowers and grass and benches and all that. We want to inspire people to get creative.”
One of the ways in which the couple hope to encourage creativity in downtown Bangor is by hosting a monthly artist in the space, who will have free rein to set up his or her work on the walls and have a gallery opening on one night, free of charge.
“There’s a vitality here now that only needs to be expanded on,” said Schmidt. “This is a dream Josh and I have had for a long time, but only now is it the time for it be a reality. This wouldn’t have happened five years ago.”
The couple also eventually wants to host a monthly lecture series titled Coepilot, in which experts on a variety of topics — green energy, home design and technology are themes that Schmersal is particularly interested in — will come in and lead a talk and workshop.
“We’ve got tons of ideas,” he said. “Too many, probably, at this point. Right now we just want to introduce people to our concept and get this thing off the ground. But the possibilities are endless.”
Between Schmersal’s professional, theatrical and musical obligations, Schmidt’s photography business, raising their 19-month-old daughter, Olivia, and preparing to open Coespace, the pair have been more than a little busy. They are taking reservations for rentals and expect to be open for business before Christmas. Other than that, however, Schmidt and Schmersal say that, in the end, Coespace is something they themselves wanted to have and use.
“Part of our whole philosophy is that we ourselves would want a space in which we could do the things we love. It was like, ‘Ooh, a vocal studio! A photography studio! A cool space for all kinds of creative events!’” said Schmidt. “Maybe it’s a little selfish, in that this is something we ourselves want. But I think people in the Bangor area can really use this. That’s what we hope for.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an error. Josh Schmersal directs the Bangor Community Choir, not the Bangor Area Children's Choir.