Why Your New Company Needs an Old Building

Every company needs a home. Even the towering giants of online commerce desire a cozy place to hang their virtual hats (and sometimes more than one cozy place, as attested by the current bidding war for Amazon’s HQ2). While many a corporate mythology might dwell nostalgically on the “we started in our garage” trope, no startup wants to linger in the carport for very long. Once your business gets sure footing, you’re going to need digs.

Choosing a location for a growing enterprise is no small matter, even in today’s everything-online-all-the-time climate. Factors to consider include foot traffic, accessibility, infrastructure and much more. As the editors of Entrepreneur remind us, your address speaks volumes about your company, declaring loud and clear what matters most to you and your brand.

As you consider where to hang your startup shingle — uptown or down, suburbs or exurbs — let me encourage you to borrow a little wisdom from the playbook of America’s greatest advocate for urban design, Jane Jacobs. In her classic work The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacobs famously wrote, “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings” (emphasis mine).

Before you think I’m advocating that you build your brand in a chintz-covered B&B or some derelict warehouse without windows or running water, let me clarify what is meant by “old buildings.” For most of the 20th century, historic preservation was associated with ladies-who-lunch and house museums, where the childhood homes of local icons, say, were restored just as they were in the distant past, for tours at $5 a head, to keep the lights on.

I am not talking about those kinds of old buildings.

I’m talking about the newer, more progressive, more sustainable sort of historic preservation — known as “adaptive reuse” or “adaptive new use” — where an organization adapts a beautiful historic property for a contemporary purpose, retaining the most distinctive ornamental elements and the durable bones of the building, while reshaping the interior with surprising art and human-centered design.

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(Entrepreneur, 1/3/18)