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The Curious Case of "The Works"

February 6th, 2024

By Maryann Baldwin, The Works Business Coach and SBDC Counselor

Three years ago this month, two forces collided in my mind: my curiosity over why a 2,400 square foot storefront on the primary block of Main Street Lansing stood empty for over 7 years (yeah, I know, who thinks about those things? Me!), and a desire to remain a business owner in our lively, growing small rural town. On my daily drives to my business of nearly 4 years, Lansing Fitness Center, I’d regularly muse “I wonder when that place will sell? I wonder who will own that space someday? I wonder what that will be again, someday?” 

As my days at the Fitness Center drew down and I turned it over to a new owner, I was thinking about how I could continue to help keep Lansing’s momentum going, I passed 274 Main Street yet again, in late 2020, it hit me - “is it me?????” 

And oddly enough, I knew exactly what I’d do with that space if it was mine, it was something I had thought about doing in Lansing long before I even knew I’d be the owner of the Fitness Center. 

Curiosity is a constant state of mind for me, and of course when you think about it, curiosity is what has driven the invention of all sorts of innovations in the world. What if, as my curiosity got the better of me, we had a place where people could get curious about all kinds of things, and we offered a safe space where people could explore themselves, their ambitions, the world around them, and all its possibilities? What if a place like Lansing really did have that coworking space I had thought about so many years earlier?

As any business coach would tell you, yours truly included, these are no concrete reasons to start a business. You want to have data, research, consumer feedback and input, previous track records to learn from. Furthermore, a lot of people had never even heard of coworking in our parts - this was definitely something new to be offered in a small, rural community.

But as we know, plenty of major life decisions are made out of emotion over concrete logic, and here I was stepping onto that “act from the gut” path. 

And then, as I put this coworking idea out into the world, I discovered:


  • a rural coworking accelerator program in Dubuque to support my efforts

  • a Rural Innovation grant program from Iowa Economic Development to help new commercial enterprises fund their vision

  • that our “go to” contractor was available that summer to help me transform the space I dreamed of

  • that a new program at the high school needed a home on Main Street

  • that there was an office tenant prospect I knew very well

  • that I could easily use the proceeds from my sale of the fitness center to purchase the space - at an all time low interest rate mind you!

After soooo many visits to 274 Main, and walkthroughs, and meetings and advisors, I closed on the purchase of 274 Main Street in early March, 2021. And here we are 36 months later, with so much to celebrate. 

Stay curious! From Fitness Center to Office Works, September 2017, April 2021, October 2021

Hundreds of people have passed through our doors because they were curious about:

  • starting a business

  • growing a business

  • making Kombucha

  • creating a vision board

  • meeting an author

  • breathing to support physical and mental health

  • improving their social media efforts

  • how to serve tourists in their small business

  • trying Ukrainian food

  • AI, artificial intelligence 

  • how to write proposals for grants

  • how to volunteer for RAGBRAI

  • a traveling tuba player from the UK

They say that “curiosity killed the cat,” but that cat didn’t have the same mental abilities we humans have to fully assess the risks involved when exploring the subjects of our curiosity (and no, I have nothing against cats). And they also say that:

Curiosity is the compass that leads us to our passions. - Elizabeth Gilbert

Curiosity is the key to creativity. - Akio Morita

Curiosity is the one thing invincible in Nature. - Freya Stark

Those are some pretty strong endorsements for the power of curiosity - not to mention what our members and visitors have been able to accomplish at The Works!

What are you curious about? What might your curiosity lead to in your life with a couple of calculated risks?  The Works is your place to explore that curiosity, so let me know how I might help you take the first steps into exploring idea you’ve been mulling over in your mind! You can always set up a discovery session with yours truly - I love hearing about everyone's ambitions and discovering how The Works and I can help! Sound interesting? Book your meeting with Maryann here!


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