The graffiti-tagged and wheat-paste-postered second floor of South Street’s popular Tattooed Mom drinking den is a perfect backdrop for tossing back a beer and a shot, or maybe — when business is slow — convening an anarchist study group.
Now, a Connecticut-based real estate investor wants to see how well that vibe works for, say, dashing out a business proposal or celebrating a bar mitzvah.
Christian Dalzell, a veteran of commercial property heavyweights Starwood Capital Group and Eastdil Secured LLC, is teaming with Tattooed Mom owner Robert Perry on what they hope will be a network of coworking office and event space hybrids that take design cues from the South Street bar.
Under their plan for Counter Culture, as they’re calling the new business, shared-office tenants will have the run of the place during working hours from Monday through Friday, but will have to give up their desks Thursday and Friday nights and all weekend.
They’re wagering that a large number of coworking-space users will be willing to do this in exchange for rates half of what other operators charge.
The duo are poised to unveil the first Counter Culture location early next month on the ground floor of 514 South St., a recently constructed apartment building just a few storefronts to the east of Tattooed Mom.
The business will open at a pivotal time for both coworking, as industry giant WeWork’s parent corporation moves haltingly toward an initial public stock offering, and for South Street, which has been seeing a flurry of new activity.
“This is not going to be your traditional coworking facility, where we go in there and overstuff the space with unnecessary but neat-looking amenities,” Dalzell said. “We just don’t believe that model is sustainable.”
Dalzell is starting Counter Culture after assembling a portfolio of eight apartment buildings with 227 units in central Philadelphia, including the Waverly Court apartments near 13th and Pine Streets and the 1430 South St. building.
He met Perry after buying the 32-unit 514 South St. building and turning one of its apartments into a pied-à-terre for use during his frequent long business visits from his home in Westport, Conn.
The idea to use the building’s 3,300 square feet of commercial space himself for coworking and events grew out of the disappointing reception that the storefront received from more traditional potential retail tenants.
After seeing his four children — aged 6 to 16 — drawn to the riot of color and surreal imagery on Tattooed Mom’s upstairs walls, Dalzell began thinking about a similar street-art aesthetic for his space.
He brought Perry on as a formal partner in the Counter Culture enterprise to tap into his vast network of street artists — some of whom Perry invites upstairs to work when the bar is closed, to protect their anonymity — and his track record of nurturing a space that people want to visit.
Under Perry’s curation, dozens of artists, including prolific Philadelphia taggers Ntel and Blur, have unleashed their creativity at Counter Culture’s space on South Street, leaving behind a vivid mural of stylized signatures, abstract shapes, and pop imagery.
Marvin the Martian, from the Warner Bros. cartoons, makes a cameo on one wall. There’s also a familiar dog with sunglasses, Buddha heads, and a winged pile of poop.
“It’s such an unusual space; it’s such a uniquely Philadelphia space,” Perry said. “It just sort of celebrates that vibrant creative spirit of South Street and Philly.”
Dalzell said the space would be able to accommodate about 45 workstations, but he is still working out the logistics of storing the desks when events are held.
Demand for the events side of the business is expected to come from the affluent central Philadelphia neighborhoods that flank South Street, he said.
Two more locations — one in Philadelphia, another out of state — are under consideration for future expansion, Dalzell said.
Catherine Timko, chief executive at the Riddle Co., a retail and economic development consultancy in Washington, was unsure of the market for throwing fancy parties within the graffitied walls, but said young people may find it appealing.
“The audience to have a wedding with street art isn’t going to be very exciting,” she said. “I think it’s going to be more attractive to the bar mitzvah segment.”
The business’ success also would be a big win for South Street, which would benefit from the round-the-clock foot traffic, Timko said.
Other new and upcoming businesses along the corridor — which has been beset by vacancy and low-end retail for decades — include Federal Donuts, Spread Bagelry, Giant Heirloom Market, and Sonder-branded short-stay apartments with a Philadelphia outpost of New York’s Emmy Squared pizza and hamburger joint.
“There’s something authentic about it that I think could be a selling point,” Timko said of Dalzell’s space.
Alex Snyder, who analyzes coworking businesses at CenterSquare Investment Management in Plymouth Meeting, said Dalzell may have found a way to serve coworking customers looking for a better-equipped workspace than a coffee shop, but who can’t afford and don’t need full-time office space.
That’s a niche that’s often ignored by the likes of WeWork, which increasingly focus on offering flexible space to large corporations, Snyder said.
“If there’s something in between a Starbucks and a WeWork facility, I think that could pull in a decent number of people,” he said. “He may be onto an interesting niche.”