There is a new coffees hop-bar on Spring Garden, W/N W/N, nestled between a pistol range and a bike shop. Although the location is enough to cause comment, the ownership model is also worthy of notice.
W/N W/N is a worker collective, where the people slinging beers and espresso across the counter share in the profits and management of the business. (Full disclosure: I am friends with a couple of the worker-owners and have monthly reading groups there.)
The newly opened cafe/bar is also the latest member of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA), a nonprofit trade association. PACA's 15 dues-paying members include food co-ops, credit unions, schools, housing associations, and an energy provider. (The difference for W/N W/N is that workers are the owners, while at a food co-op, for example, anyone can be a member.)
On Thursday, PACA will host a happy hour at W/N W/N for members and those interested in forming their own collective enterprises.
"You see more interest in co-ops during times of hardship, and we are seeing a lot of growth in the wake of the economic crisis," says Peter Frank, executive director of PACA. Caitlin Quigley, a volunteer with the organization, says, "I would tie it to the surge in freelancing: People are interested in autonomy to work and meet their needs. There is an honesty and accountability to co-ops that people are really appreciating right now."
W/N W/N's model is unusual in Philly. There are only about 350 worker co-ops in the country, according to the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. Most are around San Francisco, New England, and New York City, which recently budgeted $1.2 million to support the expansion and creation of such businesses. PACA lists two other worker co-ops among its membership.
"It takes a lot of working together and learning together, but co-ops . . . have better survival rates and lower turnover rates than other kinds of businesses," says Frank. He says PACA holds four happy hours a year. "It's very informal. We try to build connections between different sectors. Building a base of people who support these organizations is really important. Drinking beer and talking to folks is a good way to do that."
The happy hour at W/N W/N, 931 Spring Garden St., runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday.