The Makery and Mercury Studio have long collaborated and shared a building on Geer Street, with the Makery selling local makers’ wares on one side and Mercury providing a homey coworking space on the other.
Now they’re making it official by merging the businesses into one, the Mothership. The founding mothersthe Makery’s Krista Anne Nordgren and Mercury’s Katie DeConto and Megan Jonesaim to mindfully increase membership, foster more public engagement with the coworking community, and combine their strengths in a volatile development climate.
The business owners had long considered merging, but finally decided to do so when faced with an impending move. When they signed a two-year lease with developer Alex Washburn, who helped them upfit the garage space near Motorco, they knew they would likely have to leave at the end, with plans to redevelop the building already in place.
Now that date is coming, with the lease ending in July and six months rolling notice after that. It will be the second time Mercury Studio has moved after leaving its original North Mangum Street location in 2014, when it came under new ownership.
“Now we’re figuring out how we can get in a position to really put roots down and make a home for what we’re offering,” Jones says. “And the merger is a way for us to establish a stronger foundation and get that set before we move.”
DeConto says it was initially hard to think about letting go of their individual brands, but the more they talked about it, the more they realized it made sense for the two to become one.
“Now more than ever it feels really important that we be successful because of the things we stand for,” DeConto says. “If we went out of business tomorrow, I could deal with that on a personal level. I’d find another job. But I wouldn’t be able to deal with the failure of those values.”
Those values, best summarized as “radical acceptance,” are stamped out in the Mothership’s mission statement, which says in part, “We want to live in a world where anyone with an idea meant to improve the world can find a place where they are welcomed, heard, supported, and cheered, and where both their successes and their failures are met with congratulations. … We refuse to accept a world where the worth of an idea, a business, or a person is calculated based on scalability and profit potential.”
The Mothership’s new branding is inspired by retro-futuristic feminism. It features a spotted sphinx woman sitting atop a UFO and a series of “alien mothers”women from 1950s advertisements crossed with extraterrestrial creatures.
“We really like the aesthetics from the Mad Men era of advertising, and we wanted to reclaim that and use it in a different way because that was an era when women weren’t particularly empowered,” DeConto says.
The Makery and Mercury Studio were both founded by women operating from a place of daring vulnerability. At a private brand-reveal party for the Mothership recently, Nordgren looked back on how her inexperience proved an unlikely asset when she founded the Makery in 2012.
“I was so naive then, but part of being naive is you are also really brave, because you don’t know what you don’t know yet,” she says. “Even though it’s really embarrassing, I look at it as this very precious time, and that naiveté is something I hope to cultivate and carry forward.”
Nordgren was inspired to start a business in college after meeting founders of successful start-ups in California at a holiday party and realizing they weren’t above and beyond her.
“I thought they were going to be crazy superheroes, but they were just regular-ass humans,” she recalls. “It was inspiring because the only difference between them and me is that they were doing itand also an engineering degree.” When she returned from that trip, she sat down with her sisters and came up with the idea for the Makery.
DeConto conceived of Mercury Studio while working at an office job she didn’t like. She wanted to quit and work from home, but she knew she would miss the office atmosphere, so coworking seemed like the answerexcept she didn’t want to start a space on her own. When Megan Jones emailed her saying she had a similar desire, the pair immediately jumped into action.
“Coming out of that job, I didn’t feel very valued or respected,” DeConto says. “I came out with a lot of insecurities about my professional abilitiesand throw into that being young and a small woman. I just had a hard time believing I could do anything, and I wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for Megan and if I didn’t have other people to be accountable to.”
The Mothership offers a few different types of membership. Makers can apply to join the store, which advertises itself as both a place to sell your stuff and a laboratory to grow your business. People interested in a coworking membership can choose among seven options ranging from a cafe membership, which allows use of the common areas, to a private office or studio.
At the party, members share similar notes of appreciation for having a community to support them as they pursue whatever their dreams might be. Former INDY photographer Justin Cook recalls walking into Mercury Studio for the first time and sensing that it was a place where he could produce his most uninhibited work.
“I came down and was like, ‘Whoa, it’s kind of messy and rough around the edges,’ and it felt like this creative womb, which is appropriate for the rebrand,” he says. “I was kind of in love with it off the bat.”
For him, the defining moment came when he was working on a documentary photography project that began to gain local and national attention. He decided to sell it in the form of a zine at the Makery, which he thought would reach the kind of locally focused audience he wanted.
“I will never forget how y’all took a little business card and wrote, ‘Made in Durham, staff pick, $15,’” he says with a laugh. “That’s why, if I win a Pulitzer, it wouldn’t matter, because I was staff pick at Mercury Studio, which is worth more than anything.”
The Mothership currently has about sixty coworking members, with a capacity for one hundred, but it’s selling more than spaceit’s an idea of community that sticks together as the city rearranges around it.
“It feels so amazing to monetarily support your friends being awesome,” says Mailande Moran, a member. “I paid my membership, and I was like, ‘Yes, take my money!’”
THE WOMEN LEADING DURHAM’S SUSTAINABLE COMMERCE MOVEMENT POP UP AT LIBERATION THREADS
The Makery is a fine showroom for local makers and designersan Etsy in real space and time. Many people whose work can be found there will be at Liberation Threads, the four-month-old fair-trade women’s fashion boutique in downtown Durham, for the Eco-Style Pop-Up this weekend. Reid Miller Apparel, Don’t Waste Durham, River Takada-Capel (whose indigo-dyed kimonos were featured in the INDY‘s Style Issue alongside Liberation Threads last year), and others will be on hand to discuss ethical, sustainable commerceand, of course, to sell stuff, from eco-friendly soaps to upcycled threads. Though not connected to the Makery, the event’s emphasis of female entrepreneurship strikes the same stylish chord. “Amidst the buzz of Durham’s continued reach for ‘big city’ status, there is a growing movement of sustainability-focused and social-justice-minded women who are building mission-driven businesses and making positive change within the community,” says the press release for the pop-up, which runs through April 9 after this Saturday afternoon launch party. (April 1, 1–4 p.m., Liberation Threads, 405-A East Chapel Hill Street, Durham, www.liberationthreads.com) Brian Howe
This article appeared in print with the headline “The Mothership Has Landed.”