The time has come!  It’s finally here!  This Makerspace – The Open Bench Project – is now in a new place with our own space.  We could not be more  excited!  Our new shop is at 971 Congress Street, Portland, Maine.  We’re working on a new sign, but you can’t miss it.  Just park in the lot with PPG Paints when you pull in via Congress Street.  We’re in the back with three red doors.

While we can’t have any open flames until we get the dust collection system setup (we’re working on that now), there is so much we can do.  First and foremost, we are so grateful just to be open.  As many of you know, the journey from Thompson’s Point to here has had its challenges.  Founder and Director, Jake Ryan, shares his feelings on having to leave the old stomping ground after investing so much time and energy.

“I was crushed. It felt horrible of course, we had all put so much time, effort and passion into the old space. I realize now, that I had become very emotionally attached to the idea of making it happen down there and that had blinded me in a way, but in the end we just couldn’t find the path forward.”

Getting ready to get back to work.

The Path Forward: Fortunately, the path forward led us a few blocks further up Congress Street, and a little closer to downtown. The journey , however, was not short and straight forward but long and winding. We got there in large part, thanks to the much appreciated and some what unexpected support from the OBP community.  While there were of course, some members who were disappointed and upset, there were also many other OBP members who offered a tremendous amount of support. I would get these unexpected emails telling me to keep my chin up and thanking me for doing this work. It was inspiring to see how many people continued to support the effort even while we had no shop. Many members continued to pay their memberships, a few new members even signed up and the folks at Thompson Point were kind enough to let us continue to store our things down there until we got into a new space. It was a clear indicator of the culture and community we had created and it deeply impacted my ability to move the project forward.  I came to understand a great deal about the OBP community during this time. I am still amazed at how many people stayed with us through the transition. It really speaks volumes about the people we have involved and how much they all value the project.

The struggle for affordable space effects more than just apartment dwellers.


The Journey: We looked at a lot of real estate to get where we were going. Education is a great thing and looking and looking at a lot of different places was very helpful for coming to terms with what the market was doing. For a long time, we kept looking for another building like we had down on The Point – large enough to fit in everything we had going on before. The market was just so expensive and having been shut down for so long had caused us to lose many of our members and, thus revenue, which was limiting our options. My wife Jen, and our kids Max and Sophia were incredibly supportive. They could see the pain I was experiencing  and let me process it. They watched as I would get my hopes up and then dashed as I looked at various alternative spaces and tried to find ways to make them work. I am very very grateful for them and for the calls, text and emails I received during this process — that support was critical in helping to keep me going. That and running. I ran a bit over 1000 miles during the transition. That gives you some good space to think.

Quality wins over quantity.

The Challenges: A pivotal moment came when we realized that if he could cut the space needs in half, we could effectively double the amount we could spend per square foot. A great lesson that I had learned in my youth and recalled during this process, was to be soft, and not stick to what I think should be happening. Survival, it is said, depends on one’s ability to honestly confront that which is front of them, and then adjusting to this reality. It is a crazy market out there, and the idea that any small craftsperson could go out and spend $12-$15 per square foot for unconditioned workspace is absurd.  Add development cost and it is simply not feasible. We were fighting one of the exact problems that we were looking to solve. So many people just can’t afford a workspace here in Portland. So I started to think about smaller but better conditioned spaces, which as it turns out,  is just what we found.  Because the space is smaller, we’ll simply have less extra flex space but that sat empty most of the time, and we’ll have smaller studio spaces, as many as we ever had but just a little more compact. So we can’t do the really big projects anymore unless we do them outside, and we will have to be more careful about our collections of weird and interesting stuff. Not that we won’t have it, but it will need to more closely curated.

Your new stable, heated, dry shop awaits.

The End Result: I’m really excited to be back up and running. We have a bunch of new and old friends stopping by. It’s great to see the community back in the shop. I  am also really enjoying the insulation and heat. This space is really a big improvement for us. Sure, the working bathrooms, non-leaky roof, location, our neighbors, and the security of a lease are all great. But mostly, I like the heat.

So welcome!  Come on by, poke your head in and just yell “hello” up the stairs when you get here. I’m typically around Monday through Saturday from 9-5, but it’s always a good idea to call first if you don’t have a membership (207-329-8606). As always, the space is accessible 24/7/365 for members.

Interested in a membership?  Just click here and get yours today.

Join the OBP community today.