The Hive Creates a Buzz in Fairport

By Kathy Palokoff, goFirestarter

When Chelsey Zawadzki turned 30 four years ago, she woke up from a dead sleep thinking: “What am I doing with my life?” While many of us may ignore such a profound question, Chelsey did not. Instead, she began searching for a satisfying career with the flexibility to take care of her kids. Her quest ended with the creation of The Hive, a one-of-a-kind coworking community.

“I had followed a path similar to most people. I went to college, got a degree, became a vet tech, and had kids. But I realized that none of my life was ME. I wasn’t doing anything that I was passionate about,” she explains. Pregnant with her second child, she was clear that she wanted to be there for her children and to be the “loudest voice in their ears.” 

“My kids are my mission. I give them every piece of myself. But I also lost my purpose. So, I started taking on odd jobs for people — meal prep, home décor, DIY building projects, and direct sales. I dabbled in a million different things, trying to find me essentially.”

Then came COVID, and everything stopped. “We didn’t have a choice but to be home with our families. My girlfriends and I used to sit on Zoom calls just to listen to each other breathe, to feel some sense of ‘I’m with you.’ When the pandemic settled down, I went looking for community. I knew that it was really important to me.”

Scrolling on Instagram, she came across a women’s coworking space, and a lightbulb went off. She realized that she had found something she could commit to and had the capabilities to build. That was the beginning of The Hive. “The Hive is where I could create that sense of community. I believe it takes a village, but how do you find your village? The Hive became that village.”

She named it The Hive because in a beehive all the bees work together. “My kids love Bee Movie. Every worker bee has their job, and they all collectively work together for the same goal. At The Hive, we all work together without the intimidation factor of feeling stupid when we ask a question. And there’s probably somebody filling a role we need within our space, so we don’t have to outsource to a stranger.”

Learning by Doing

Chelsey, who grew up on a farm, never opened a business before The Hive. “This was way out in left field, but something that called on my heart,” she recalls. She reached out to one of her best friends who had taught women how to build business plans. When she sat down with her to run numbers, she discovered her idea was viable as a money-making enterprise. Her model was to provide a community for members to connect, while renting out space for coworking and to organizations and companies for events.

She turned to another friend with expertise in commercial real estate to help find her Fairport location and negotiate a lease. Her success in tapping into friends, who were also women business owners, validated her belief that The Hive would create a strong support system for all those involved. 

Since opening last December, she has gathered a diverse group of 32 members, ranging from entrepreneurs and business owners to employees who are working remotely. “Watching my members network has been phenomenal. It’s been really cool to watch the different friendships and different networking opportunities that have been happening within the space.” 

One example is three members – a financial advisor, mortgage loan officer, and employee of an Airbnb management company – who hosted an Airbnb class at The Hive for 30 people. By collaborating, they were able to cover a variety of topics, such as how to set up a business, what kinds of loans are available, and how to handle hosting and hospitality. 

She sees The Hive as an extension of herself, right down to the murals on the wall and the stocked pink refrigerator. “It is a combination of all of the things that I couldn’t find in society. I make sure that my members feel seen, heard, and understood. When they’re celebrating something, we all celebrate.”

A Place of Experimentation and Growth

The Hive has also been a place of experimentation. “The beauty of starting a business is that you can learn and change things along the way,” she says. Originally, she planned to have onsite paid childcare to meet the needs of members. She quickly realized that costs due to staffing and regulations did not make it feasible. Instead, she is now planning a co-op where members will share childcare shifts in exchange for free or minimal cost babysitting.

She has also been experimenting with hosting monthly, members-only events that focus on fun and community, like having a Mother’s Day pop-up shop, hiring a stylist to help build wardrobes, and painting and wine tasting nights. Additionally, she is collaborating with others to offer open-to-the-public events.

As The Hive grows, Chelsey wants to double membership and increase space rentals. She currently rents event space on weekdays and weekends on a first come, first serve basis. She would love to open more locations because of what she sees as an acute need. 

“I didn’t realize until I started how needed a space like this is for women. It doesn’t matter what color skin you have, what size you are, what you wear, what you do for work. None of that matters, You will always have a seat open for you at our table,  Everyone is welcome. Whatever you do in life, nobody will judge you within our space. You are celebrated.”