Last updated on April 4th, 2020 at 11:53 am
The Hudson Business Lounge in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward has permanently closed after eight years, folding under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The cafe, co-working hub and event space, located at 310 E. Buffalo St., announced the impending closure to its members in mid-March.
“As we started seeing (the coronavirus outbreak) unfolding, we saw basically the whole business model changing,” said Gary Lato, co-managing partner of Hudson Business Lounge in an interview with BizTimes Milwaukee. “…We made the decision early on that there’s no way we could weather the storm through this.”
Lato and Dan Walsh, who is executive vice president at commercial real estate firm Transwestern, opened Hudson Business Lounge in October 2012 as one of Milwaukee’s first co-working hubs. The business rented out temporary office space to entrepreneurs from a variety of industry sectors and served as a site for corporate meetings and networking events.
“There’s probably a dozen and a half to two dozen businesses that started in Hudson and moved out into larger facilities some place,” said Lato.
But as the local co-working market got more competitive– now with Ward 4, The Hive, Serendipity Labs, Work Lofts MKE, Spaces, Novel Coworking and 5Wise Workshop among others– the business in recent years had pivoted toward hospitality, shifting focus to attract daytime meetings and evening events and rather than on filling office space, said Lato.
Overtime, its front-of-house cafe became a major driver of foot traffic.
Unfortunately, a hospitality-based business model isn’t promising these days as COVID-19 spreads, prompting health officials to warn people to stay home and organizers to cancel or postpone major events.
“We just see that the landscape has changed so significantly now that it’s just not worth pursuing any further,” Lato said.
He anticipates the COVID-19 pandemic will drastically shift the meeting and events market as businesses grow accustomed to working and meeting remotely. He said it could take two to three years for things to reboot. That was too long of a wait.
“I think the fear of COVID-19 or the next coronavirus coming around will cause a lack of commitment by some of these firms to commit to offices or spaces like ours in the future,” he said.
Friday was the last day Husdson’s mailbox members could pick up their mail. Friday was also supposed to be the last day for its front-of-house cafe, but that changed when state orders closed bars and restaurants to the public a couple weeks ago and the business decided it didn’t have the infrastructure to offer carryout service.
The business plans to liquidate furniture, supplies and equipment to the general public once gatherings are permitted, according to an announcement posted on its website. As for its 12 full- and- part-time employees, the business asked customers to keep them in mind for employment opportunities.
Get more news and insights in the March 30 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee: