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A home for remote workers in northern Door County

Two peninsula transplants open up coworking space in Fish Creek

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December 12, 2023

FISH CREEK – Both Door County transplants – Chris Schmitz and Corey Reyment – said they moved their families to Wisconsin’s peninsula during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s definitely a cohort of remote workers that fled to Door County during COVID-19… and we were one of them,” Schmitz said.

Both entrepreneurs themselves – Schmitz, the owner of The Creamery in Green Bay, and Reyment, the owner of Fox Cities Home Buyers (or I Buy WI) – found a new freedom with remote work options, like many others, and made the move after recognizing they could manage things from afar.

“Our team does most of the day-to-day stuff, so we don’t have to be there in person now, thanks to Zoom and all these things,” Reyment said.

Build it, and they may come
Walking “parallel experiences almost” as business owners and having kids similar in age, Reyment said he and Schmitz “have been good friends ever since.”

Though making the move felt like the best decision for them both, Schmitz said Door County isn’t necessarily set up for people like them.

“Corey and I were lamenting to each other about the pains of working from the basement with kids running around, and we started to look for office space together,” he said.

The pair said the initial plan didn’t include a coworking space, but a shared office space for the two of them.

However, as they began looking for a location, recognizing others may be in similar situations as them, Reyment said the idea of opening a coworking space in Fish Creek started to take shape.

“The venture was really, ‘hey, let’s make a coworking space, but if nobody shows up that’s okay, we still got an office,” he said.

Schmitz said when they found a big enough spot, “we thought maybe we could fill a need in the community.”

One of the amenities Door County Coworking offers that Reyment said is a huge plus, is high-speed internet.

“There’s some challenges with high-speed internet in the county right now,” he said. “We thought we could fill that need for people who may even be considering moving up here. Maybe we could be the vehicle to help attract more people – be a small piece of the pie to attract more people to move up here that are at our age and lifestyle.”

The proof, Reyment said, is in the pudding.

“We got one guy (originally from Milwaukee) right now that we know we’re keeping in the county,” he said. “He was considering moving out until he found us.”

Schmitz said not only does Door County Coworking offer a space to work, it also provides a sense of community.

The first floor of the 1,400-square-foot Door County Coworking space boasts a variety of workspaces from small tables to wall-side benches. Submitted Photo

“The member from Milwaukee is past the age of kids, but not retired,” he said. “He said it was really hard to meet people and find community. And without kids or you know, that’s a natural connecting point for a lot of people, like for me and Corey – meeting people through activities, but he was struggling. It’s cool to hear him say this has filled a void in his life around having some people to meet and talk to, some professional relationships.”

Schmitz said the idea of a coworking space in Door County isn’t new.

“There have been some efforts to start a coworking space up here,” he said. “There’s a coffee shop in Ellison Bay that had half of it as a coworking space, but they cut that down because I think it was too popular. They said there was no room for people to park who wanted to use the coffee shop as a coffee shop.”

So, the demand for a coworking space in Door County, Schmitz said, was there.

“We saw a lot of signals that there was a need, some validation in the market,” he said. “But it was much more of a – we see the need in the community and maybe we can help here – then – here’s a profitable business idea that we should jump on.”

Attracting families
Reyment said there are two focuses of Door County – “it’s mostly a retirement community and a tourist community.”

“I think for me personally, (the coworking space) was a way to say, ‘hey, this is something we can be a catalyst for and provide some connections and resources for people who are not in the retiree phase and aren’t in the tourism industry to hopefully attract other families in our age group to be able to move up here and make that jump, without the unknown of where they would work from.”

Schmitz said they hope Door County Coworking can be a hub for people.

“This felt like a big part of what I missed from being in a bigger city – having a place professionally to plug in,” he said.

Providing connectivity opportunities for travelers, Reyment said, also puts the space on the map.

“We had a gentleman from Colorado that was in town for a week,” he said. “He works in the film industry, so he needs fast internet to be able to do large video dumps and downloads. So, he stayed with us for a couple of days while he was here – he comes back every year – and he said, ‘you guys saved my life. I don’t know what I would have been able to do because the place we’re staying at, the internet’s terrible. I would have never been able to get done what I needed to get done while I was here (without this space).’”

Reyment said “the small sample size of people” that have already utilized the space has been eye-opening.

“Finding out how they found out about us, how we are filling a need, I would say, has been fulfilling,” he said.

Schmitz said though there hasn’t been much traffic since the space’s soft opening at the beginning of October – the start of the slower season for the peninsula – the positivity they are already seeing is promising.

“Everyone who’s come through, it’s been the same story – ‘thank you for being here. I’m so glad I found you,’” he said. “We had someone get a day pass to take a handful of phone calls. She’s from Sturgeon Bay, but travels up and down the peninsula, working with different businesses doing marketing for them. She’s like, ‘oh, I’m so excited to find out you’re here – there’s been such a need for this.’ We keep hearing that, so confident that we are filling a need.”

Though the pair hopes to fill up the space with year-round members, Schmitz said the day and week passes will likely be popular, especially during the summer months.

Co-owners Chris Schmitz and Corey Reyment said they hope Door County Coworking creates a sense of community for remote workers living on Wisconsin’s peninsula. Submitted Photo

“First and foremost, we hope to meet the needs of the community that’s here, year-round,” he said. “But, I’m sure in the summer, we’ll have no problem filling up the space with both day and week passes with everyone traveling up from Milwaukee and Illinois.”

A bit more about the space
Schmitz said currently the 1,400-square-foot space has a chair capacity for 20 people.

“There’s two private offices – with each office set up with two standing desks, so four people in the private offices, potentially,” he said. “Then downstairs, there’s a mix of small tables with two chairs, benches against the wall with five chairs each and then smaller tables with four chairs. Realistically, though, not every chair is to be filled, so I’d say about 15 people (could work comfortably).”

Reyment said the space also features a kitchenette stocked with complimentary beverages and snacks.

“We always joke that we have Nespresso coffee and that’s like our claim to fame,” he laughed.

Schmitz said Door County Coworking’s location “is an amenity” – with easy access to other Fish Creek businesses.

“I can look out, and I can see the water right here,” he said. “Right out our back door, there’s a sidewalk that goes right down towards the beach, coffee shops, restaurants. We’re also kind of off the main drag behind a set of buildings, so there feels like a lot of privacy.”

Though the space is open and ready for members, Schmitz said they recognize the space will evolve with demand.

“This is kind of iteration one,” he said. “We set it up, but we know we didn’t nail it perfectly for the community’s needs. We’re looking for feedback from everyone who comes through about what they need.”

Schmitz said they will continue to iterate as they better understand the needs of the community.

“One example, we know a lot of people are saying they need places to take calls,” he said. “So, we need to figure out a way to make sure people have the ability to jump into maybe phone booths or something like that, in the future (to be able to do that).”

Characterizing it as a micro coworking space – “intimate and charming is what we say” – Schmitz said some things are a bit of a “unique challenge because it is so small.”

“I think a lot of the stuff I read about other coworking spaces, there’s a lot of operational efficiencies that we can’t think about because of our scale – like automatic door locks,” he said. “It’s all the problems of a larger coworking space, but just for fewer customers.”

The future of the space
Though the space has only been open for a few months, Schmitz and Reyment said there have been conversations about what the future could look like.

“The building next door to where we are – there’s five units next to each other, we have two of them currently – is for sale,” Schmitz said. “So, we’ve already talked about, if there’s enough demand, maybe we could add on.”

The potential for multiple spaces up and down the peninsula, Schmitz said, has also been discussed.

There are two private offices on the second floor of Fish Creek’s Door County Coworking space – each with two standing desks to accommodate up to four people. Submitted Photo

“Maybe we start kind of a club where we have spaces across the county where your membership gets you into the space and Fish Creek or in Ellison Bay – because people are so spread out up here, it’d be nice to have different places for people to plug in,” he said.

Partnerships with other Door County businesses, Schmitz said, are also a possibility.

“We talked about maybe providing other benefits, like discounts at different coffee shops – around the theme of giving you space to work,” he said. “Maybe in the winter months, it’s quiet for Sway Brewing + Blending in Baileys Harbor. We’d have a partnership… we could offer a discount and encourage people to make their way over there to spend some time and maybe have breakfast.”

Utilizing the space for community events has also been part of the discussion, Schmitz said. 

“I think the space we have now, we’ve had a little bit of interest in people using it after hours, but I wouldn’t say we’re optimizing for that use case. So, having a bigger meeting area, being able to open that up for nonprofits and other kinds of local organizations would be cool.”

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