While attending a recent Urban Land Institute annual Carolinas conference in Charleston, SC, I was intrigued by commercial real estate guru and marketer Gunnar Branson’s update to the well-worn real estate mantra: “Location, Location, Location.” Branson shared his 21st century update to the slogan as “Density, Diversity, and Shared Ownership” – this is the new paradigm of commercial real estate.

How does this apply to our mission of building community support for independent businesses to  cultivate a diverse and equitable local economy? These trends in commercial real estate are seen first, not with big corporations or big-box stores, but with nimble mom-and-pops and small companies Рthey are the innovators. The ones able to make decisions locally. The ones able take a risk and try something new. These independent businesses shape our communities with the types of development most of us are seeking:

  • The ability to live, work and play close together and get there by walking/biking/transit (Density);
  • A healthy mix of office/retail/residential/greenspace, as well as age/race/income levels (Diversity);
  • Opportunities to rent, share or co-own a bike, bus seat, Zipcar, bed, kitchen, or desk (Shared Ownership).

King Street, Charleston, SC. Source: Post and Courier

Brooklyn, NY. Source: BrooklynPaper.com

We’re seeing the ‘Density, Diversity and Shared Ownership’ model in both office and retail businesses in the Charleston area. These economic marriages of complimentary businesses can be beneficial for co-marketing and expanding customer base, in addition to the cost-savings of co-locating in the same space.

Local Works, a project of Lowcountry Local First, provides a 3,000sf shared office workspace for independent businesses, entrepreneurs and freelancers. Desks are affordable and available month-to-month. There is a density of 35 coworkers representing over 27 different businesses; a diversity of business types – from restaurant owner to attorney to graphic designer to green roof company; and a sharing of ownership making professional space with great amenities attainable for small business owners.

Local Works coworking space in Charleston, SC. Source: Urban Land Institute


Shared conference room at Local Works - Charleston, SC

Kitchen and bar area at Local Works - Charleston, SC

Shared kitchen spaces are popping up around the country, and provide beginning food and drink businesses professional and legally-compliant space to base their operations before investing in expensive high-end equipment and space of their own.

Naked Kitchen in Greenville, SC provides kitchen space for rent. Source: Naked Kitchen

On the storefront side, One Love Design House, located on King Street in downtown Charleston, is a full service design studio, showroom, retailer, and production space that includes fashion designer Rachel Gordon and jewelry designer Birdsong Designs.

One Love Design House is shared by a  a dress designer, a seamstress, a jewelry designer, and a photographer - Charleston, SC. Source: One Love Design House

Toni Riffel, the coffee guy, and Sarah O'Brien, the pastry lover, didn't know each other before they came together to share this space in Atlanta's Grant Park neighborhood.

National Public Radio cites an example of a coffee roaster and a baker sharing a storefront, though they highlight customer complaints of being required to make two separate transactions if they want a coffee and a croissant. Surely there is point of sale technology available to handle two accounts in one simple transaction? If not, BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY for someone out there!

We are also seeing examples in sustainable agriculture, where beginning farmers are sharing farmland, tools, equipment, infrastructure, and expertise. Dirt Works Incubator Farm, a project of Lowcountry Local First, provides these start-up farming operations an opportunity to share these resources for a lower-risk entry to market in the high-risk, high-cost field of agriculture.

Know of other examples of these models in Charleston or elsewhere? Tag us on your social platforms and let us know. Are they successful? What are the challenges? Do regulatory barriers to this type of use exist in your community?

Lauren Gellatly
Community Development Director at Lowcountry Local First