CHATHAM – Fred and Lindsay Bierwirth were driving by the former Campari's Restaurant on Orleans Road when they both had one of those “aha” moments.
The couple was at a crossroads in their life; Fred was working for an investment research firm and was ready for something different. Lindsay, a stay-at-home mom who also does research for author Michael Thompson, wanted to move back to her hometown to raise their two daughters.
Seeing the building at 323 Orleans Rd., which has been vacant for three and a half years and is in poor condition, sparked their imagination.
“It was kind of like a lightbulb went off for both of us,” Fred said.
Months later, they are closing in on final approvals for Chatham Works, a combined fitness center, shared workspace and juice bar which they hope will bring new life to the north side of North Chatham's main commercial plaza.
“We want this to be a fun place to go to,” said Lindsay, a member of the Garre family who grew up down the street on Shore Road.
Plans now before the historic business district commission and planning board call for removing the former restaurant building, which dates from 1967, and constructing a new structure on the existing foundation. The lower level will contain 6,000 square feet of fitness space, including a childcare center. The first and second floor will feature a juice bar and shared office space for rent on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis.
The couple describe the business as a hybrid that will differ from the town's two other health and fitness facilities, BodyStrong and the Chatham Health and Swim Club. It will be smaller and focused less on bodybuilding and athletic training and more on health and wellness. They've worked with a health club consultant and fitness center design firm to come up with the right mix of equipment, training and classes for the local market.
“We want the best platforms for trainers that they will like and use,” Fred said. “This will be purpose built and designed for fitness.” Both he and his wife are athletic – Lindsay is a runner and Fred works out on a regular basis and participates in the Pan Mass Challenge.
They believe the fitness center and shared workspace concepts are complementary. More and more companies are open to the idea of staff working remotely, said Fred, who worked from a home office in his last position. For many people, the lack of connection with other workers can be limiting; he often felt like he needed to get out and just be with others working in the same or similar fields. Having the flexibility to work in an environment that fosters community can be beneficial.
They see the idea as appealing to both year-round residents and summer visitors, who may need workspace for a short period during their Chatham vacation.
“We think they will both do well with the seasonal market, but for us the priority is serving the local and year-round residents,” said Fred.
With an MBA in entrepreneurship from Babson College, Fred comes from a family with a entrepreneurial background, but this is his first foray into starting his own business. He's worn a number of hats in different positions in finance and investment firms over the years, concentrating on research, and he's done considerable due diligence on this project, not only researching the business and market, but making connections with fellow residents and neighbors.
“We've chatted with a lot of folks,” said Fred. “Business is ultimately about relationships.”
There's considerable risk involved for the couple, both financially and personally. They sold their home in Hingham and bought a house in town in March, completely relocating their lives.
“We wanted to start from scratch,” said Lindsay, adding that they feel they've made a safe move. “We've done our homework. People are excited about this.”
They hope the facility will become a destination, a place where locals and visitors will come to exercise, take a class and hang out, perhaps stopping in on the way to the beach, Lindsay said.
The building, designed by architect Roger Hoit – Lindsay said her family and Hoit's go back five generations in Chatham – makes maximum use of natural light on all levels, including an atrium that will provide an inviting, relaxing atmosphere on the first and second floors. The new building fits in with the neighborhood and is an opportunity to turn what is currently an eyesore into an asset for the town, said Fred.
“We want the building to fit in. We want it to look like something that belongs in Chatham,” he told members of the HBDC recently. It will include an outdoor area adjacent to the juice bar and landscaping and showcase gardens by neighbor Sorbello Landscaping.
“We're using local businesses as much as possible,” noted Lindsay.
The couple has an ambitious schedule, hoping to open in November. Over the next few weeks, they'll be before the planning board, zoning board of appeals and HBDC – again – to hopefully secure final approvals. They're set to close on the property once those permits are in place.
“We have a lot to be grateful for,” said Lindsay. “We think this is what the town wants and needs.”