BRATTLEBORO — After more than a year off, Tom Bodett and the crew at HatchSpace are turning the lights back on at their new location on High Street.
"One great advantage over our last space, which was one big room, is it's divided up," said Bodett.
If someone was leading a class, no one could use the woodworking equipment because of the noise, he said.
"Now we can have four or five things going on at once," said Bodett.
In late 2018, Bodett and Greg Goodman, at the time the managing director of operations and programs, opened up the woodworking cooperative in a former warehouse on Flat Street.
While the space worked out great for its members and the classes offered there, Bodett said they needed a place that offered more flexibility. Last year, Bodett and his wife, Rita Ramirez, purchased the former Midtown Mal on High Street and rechristened it High Street and Green. Most of the HatchSpace now occupies the third floor, with an auxiliary space on the second floor, next to the new offices of the Vermont Center for photography.
On Friday, during October Gallery Walk, HatchSpace is hosting an open house from 5 to 8 p.m. so folks can see the news space.
"We've been hosting limited classes here since June," said Bodett. "But now we're going to open it up for new memberships."
Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, HatchSpace on Flat Street was at full capacity, he said, because they could only offer one thing at a time, whether that was a class, or giving members time to use any of the equipment on the floor.
"We were at capacity," said Bodett. "How sustainable is that? If we were going to survive in the long term, we were going to have to serve many more people."
Then, fortuitously, the Midtown Mall became available.
"My wife and I purchased the building, which was built in 1888, and HatchSpace has a lease arrangement where it can essentially live here rent free," said Bodett.
While some of the former tenants moved out after the sale, Bodett said many remained and others are moving in, including other woodworkers who have their own shops but also want access to the resources available through HatchSpace.
"The idea for the building is that it will be full of people who make stuff and do things," said Bodett.
The building itself is perfect for an enterprise like HatchSpace, he said. At one time, it was a parking garage, with drive-in access on three floors, all built to support a heavy load. The old oil-fired steam boiler has to go, though, said Bodett, and will be replaced with heat pumps for heating and cooling.
"Right now there's one thermostat for the entire building," he said. "It's inefficient, ineffective and expensive."
After a new roof is installed, they are also planning on erecting a 61-kilowatt solar array on top of the building.
"We have two complete woodworking shops on site, a 43-inch wide belt sander and a variety of commercial grade equipment," said Goodman. "We have a full-size CNC machine and other equipment that can be used with digital design files, but, off course, our people are our most valuable asset."
Goodman was able to focus more on his woodworking and the programs offered by HatchSpace when they brought on board Amanda Kenyon as managing director of finance and development. HatchSpace also recently hired Doug Finkel to lead programming at the facility and Jeremiah Warner as an instructor.
"We are very lucky to have Doug joining our core teaching staff," said Goodman. "He is an accomplished woodworker, with work in several private and museum collections. He brings 30 years of teaching experience to Hatchspace and a Master of Science for Teachers in Woodworking and Furniture Design from the Rochester Institute of Technology."
One of HatchSpace's lead instructors is Gail Grycel, a custom cabinetmaker who has been leading specialized courses for women who want to learn how to work with wood.
Bodett said as a person who has been sober for almost three decades, woodworking fills the space he used to fill with alcohol. It also offers a refuge to him and anyone seeking to turn down the volume on modern life or, in light of the pandemic, reasses what they are doing with their lives.
"We're dissatisfied with politics, with our neighbors, with our lives, with our jobs, and our climate," said Bodett. "Everything disappoints us right now, if not outright scares us. So, to have a safe place isn't going to cure all that, but it will help us to feel better and when we feel better, we are going to come up with better solutions."
He also finds a permanence in woodworking that is absent from many of the other professional things he has done in his life.
"Everything else I do vaporises," said Bodett. "I'm on the radio and that was broadcast and some people are getting a laugh and then it's over. My books ... they come, they go, they fade. But this is different. This is real. This is why I'm spending all my time doing this, because this is what makes me truly happy. Anyone can find that."
In addition to HatchSpace and the Vermont Center for Photography, the building also houses Wheelhouse Clay Center, Malisun Boutique, A Vermont Table/Corridon Bratton Catering, Shiatsu School of Massage, Bario-Neal Jewelers, glass blower Matthew Weill, and print maker Michael Smoot. The top floor contains 16 studios occuped by a variety of artists, craftspeople, and entrepreneurs and coming soon is the High Street & Green Gallery.