HIGHLANDS – Joe Nardone has taken a 19th century building, once a bar, then a laundromat, later a plumbing office, and brought it into the 21st century with a lot of hard work, creative ideas, modern technology and a belief in investing in his hometown.
The result is Highlands Cowork, a 21st century type of technology and creativity that provides office space for professionals who need the convenience of desks, privacy, print services and more in order to be successful themselves.
The young entrepreneur owns the building at 196 Bay ave. with his father in their company, Riaforce. They purchased the empty building two and a half years ago, and since then, Nardone has been his own contractor in overseeing and managing all the professionals who have transformed the building on the corner of Valley St. and Bay avenue, into a scrupulously clean and attractive blue and white building with skylights and large windows reminiscent of the original ceiling to floor windows that were belt in the late 1800s.
Cowork is the concept that basically rents a desk and a broad variety of business amenities to anyone who needs but cannot afford, or does not want to invest in office space, but needs the professional appearance and efficiency of a large office. Interested persons contract for one month at a time, at a price less than $300 a month, and have the ability to use the facility anytime of the day or night to accomplish their own purpose.
Rental comes with a specific key to the premises, and the right to use everything within including the beverages and snacks as well as candies in the lounge area.
Membership is limited to less than two dozen tenants, Nardone said, and rentals are by the month only and renewable for as many months as a leasee needs the space.
Desks are plain, without drawers or storage space, and lined up adjacent to each other taking full advantage of the large windows and views of the main business district of the borough. There are soundproof rooms, also equipped with special lighting and desks, to enable leases to have privacy in phone calls, and a small kitchen supplied with snacks and beverages, including a coffeemaker and the fixings, all included in the monthly rent.
But there is so much more than just desk rental in this innovative new business. Included in that same monthly rental fee is use of the complete facility, including a comfortable lounge area overlooking Bay Ave. , a private room with a large screen tv set up with table and chairs for conference meetings, another larger room for larger meetings, with a screen for giving classes, even a pseudo – patio or lounge area complete with faux grass and skylights to give an open air concept. The walls in this room are even painted a sky blue, to carry the outdoor concept closer into the room.
There are lockers with individual keys for leases to store belongings. Print services, high speed internet service, and pretty much everything that would be available in a large professional office are all included in the rent. The bathroom is convenient to the conference and desk areas.
Nardone also makes double use of many aspects of this creative idea. The tables in the conference rooms all fold down and are stored in the walls so the conference rooms could even be leased for private parties, occasions, or events for up to 50 people.
While providing 21st century technology for customers, Nardone said his own love of historic preservation helped him in the final design. While the building served as a laundromat and a plumbing office, the floor to ceiling windows were boarded up and hidden behind walls. He recalled the old windows with the massive walls of glass that surround two sides of the building; rather than demolish interior walls, he brought out the beauty of old Natco brick, its new white surface making the walls reminiscent of bookshelves. And he has preserved many of the 19th century pieces of construction that were found in the building during his reconstruction.
There is a great sign advertising Hoffmann Beer from decades ago, as well as other artifacts he has stored until he can pursue more history on each. While he could not save the faded floral painted walls of an earlier era, there is still a column in one of the open rooms that is topped with the floral pattern that had been the style in its day.
While Nardone eliminated the low false ceiling to expose the height of the first floor of the two story building and captured the style of exposed heating tubes with the force hot air heating system, he did not have to make any changes and could continue the large apartment on the second floor which is currently rented. “The tenants are wonderful,” the owners said, “ they’ve been great through the construction phases and are excited themselves to see this new business open.”
Raised in Monmouth Beach, and a resident of this borough for eight years, Nardone is a graduate of MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology at Sandy Hook and New York University where he earned a degrees in mechanical engineering and nuclear science.
He got the idea for Highlands Cowork when he lived in California at a co-living facility built above a desk rental coop and operating under the same concept. Individuals could rent a bunk in an open room and have the security of a bed and bath at night and the office rental space on the first floor.
The most frustrating part of accomplishing his dream in Highlands was the difficult environment he encountered in trying to meet all the municipal requirements and securing all the necessary permits. With all that intact, his necessary permits and certificate of occupancy framed and displayed prominently on the wall, Nardone brushes off any difficulty with a shrug and “I just wanted to get my business opened, to bring a new business to Highlands, and to provide a concept that I think many people want.”
His beliefs apparently are panning out …he is just starting to advertise rentals this week and already is starting to fill up. Enough so he us also looking to purchase another building, perhaps not in the borough but in a nearby city, to provide the other type of office rental space that is proving popular, a more expensive room rental in a larger complex, with all the office equipment and conference rooms in a single area for all tenants outside their own office space. Similar businesses in this area who had inquiries for the less expensive type like Highlands Cowork have also referred interested persons to him, he said.
Nardone said he’s grateful for everyone who has helped him get Highlands Cowork underway, especially his parents and girlfriend Kazia, who have been supportive throughout the long work hours he required to make the building as perfect as possible, as well as the many businesses in town which have been helpful and supportive of his ideas. “I just wanted to open my business,” he grinned happily, “and now I have.”
Persons wishing to know more about Highlands Cowork can stop in to see Nardone, or visit the website at Highlandscowork.com. Or call him at 908-848-3080 and ask for a tour. He’ll be happy to accommodate you.