Stories Behind the Booze: Gather Cincy’s Peggy Bustamante and Meg Cooper
Batman and Robin, peanut butter and jelly, popcorn and movies – all of these duos showcase unique flavors or talents while simultaneously balancing each other out, much like the mother-daughter partnership behind Gather Cincy. From renovations to wellness classes, daughter Meg Cooper and mother Peggy Bustamante have worked together over the past year to open Cincinnati’s first coworking space that offers childcare on site. Gather Cincy wants to bring working men and women together through a shared passion of hustle, hard work, and collaboration.
2018 is bound to be an exciting year for Meg and Peggy. Not only did they have the grand opening of Gather Cincy in June 2018, but Meg is expecting her first child in September. We sat down with them to learn more about the process of opening Gather Cincy and finding a sense of community in Cincinnati.
Interview by Liz Rosevear. Photography by Dyah Miller.
What was the process like from start to finish in opening up Gather Cincy?
Peggy: Last summer, we decided we wanted to make it happen. We’d talked about it and it was like, “No, we need to do it now.”
Meg: In September, we were able to start doing this pop-up coworking space in Madisonville and we were just doing that once a week on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pretty limited hours. Meanwhile, we were looking for a building, which I thought was going to be the easy part.
Peggy: And I'm a realtor! I knew it wasn't going to be that easy. We had looked at leasing space and since I'm not in commercial real estate, I didn't realize how the leases work. You were leasing and typically you're paying the taxes and all the maintenance as if you own it, but it’s way higher than a mortgage would be. I was like, “No, we need to just buy our property.”
Meg: We found this building, I think in November. Commercial real estate also takes a very long time to close, so we closed March 9th and then started knocking down walls and redoing everything.
You mentioned before that you did a lot of the design yourselves, along with some of the decorations. What was the inspiration behind the interior and the feel for the space?
Meg: I really enjoy doing design work. I travel a lot for work and I wanted it to have a nice, warm feeling, like you're at home – a clean home [laughter]. But also, we like doing stuff ourselves and kind of get ideas in our head. I wanted benches.
Peggy: She’s the idea person and I’m the implementation person. In every aspect, we have very complementary skills. The things I don’t particularly like, she does, and vice versa. It’s wonderful.
I was actually going to ask: How has it been working as a mother and daughter duo? Have you worked together at all before this?
Peggy: No, but we like each other. You know what? It’s just like being married. You have to decide what your battles are. I think, “I don't really like that but I don't care enough to fight about it.”
Meg: And luckily, with a lot of things, I feel like I have a vision and I'm like, “Well let me just bring it in the space and we return it if it's not a good fit.” I'm the queen of returns.
It sounds like you really balance each other out.
Peggy: I don't think that either of us could have done it alone. There's no one else I would want to do it with, because I know I can count on her doing what she says she's going to do, and I believe she feels the same.
Meg: I think my husband was a little like, “You guys are going to have disagreements.”
Peggy: We’ve had very few disagreements at all, and they were just little things. Even the arguments are just when you're exhausted and you just start getting that way. It's easy to overcome.
What first sparked this thought of opening this coworking space?
Meg: I do software consulting as my full-time job right now and I've always worked from home. It took us a while to get pregnant. My friends had kids, and just seeing issues people had with childcare… I didn't want to drop my kid off at daycare every day, especially when I'm working from home. A lot of my friends either had to quit their jobs or go back to work full-time because there wasn't a flexible option for childcare. I had been noodling with that idea for a while and think I needed my mom to be like, “We need to do this now if we’re going to do it.”
How do you see coworking bringing women together in that community?
Meg: We moved to Mariemont two years ago, which is all families. I saw this big divide between stay-at-home moms and working moms. And then, where do you fit in if you're not either one of those? You don't have that community.
We have a few members right now that have been with us since the beginning and this is so great. We've already seen people collaborating together and being able to support each other through referrals. We had our first member happy hour last week and just being able to have that shared experience…
When people say, “Oh, there's nothing to do here,” I think, “Then you’re not looking very hard.”
- Peggy Bustamante
Peggy: The friendships we have now! Some of them were here when construction was still happening. We didn't even have carpet on the floors and people were here coworking just because they needed the childcare thing and they were already with us at the church [in Madisonville]. They had a whole month when they didn't have anything. They were excited to watch everything happen.
You mentioned you have private office space available, as well, and you already have one woman who’s renting out of there, right? Can you tell us a little bit more about her business?
Meg: Sapna Gupta is a business attorney. She offers a wide variety of different services. She's already been able to work with some of our members. We have one member who just moved to Cincinnati from Singapore and is dealing with trying to work and her visa. It’s great because Sapna has immigration law experience. And there’s another member who’s changing their business name. It's just nice to have in-house business services. We have one more office available and ideally, we'd like it to be another type of business that can serve small businesses and women.
We took a tour earlier, but can you tell us a little bit more about the spaces that are available here?
Meg: We have a private office available on the second floor. It can probably fit two to three people. It's a nice space, has a little conference area, and if you're just working by yourself, you can have your clients come meet you there for meetings. Our whole first floor is open coworking space. We have different options: If you feel like working in a sunny room on the couch, you can do it that day. The next day you want to come in and be a little more serious, you can sit in a quieter room at a table. We have a conference room available if you need to have larger meetings with clients and we also rent that out to outside businesses. We had someone contact us: They needed to conduct interviews for a day. Pretty much the whole first floor is available as event rental space. If people want to host baby showers or if professionals want to host workshops, we're getting things on the calendar. But if there are skills that people want to share, they're welcome to rent out our space and we’ll help promote it within our community.
Peggy: We have the nursing room downstairs and upstairs; we just ask that it be a more quiet area. We’re going to have two call rooms if you just need a private space to talk to someone.
Meg: Our lower level has a separate entrance from the parking lot so parents can drop their children off downstairs and we have several different childcare rooms. We have a nursery and then two classrooms. Each room has its own video camera installed so you can check your kids on your cell phone.
Peggy: It's nice that all day long they can just see what's happening and they can hear if they're crying. They can go down and nurse and then come back up. Worst case, we’ll text if they need to come down. It’s pleasing to see your child laughing along with other kids.
Peggy, you mentioned earlier that you’re a realtor. How did you get your start?
Peggy: I've always been in sales and service. I have sold real estate, pharmaceuticals; I even worked for a local jewelry manufacturer, and traveled 20 states along the whole west coast on my own. You know, the more I traveled and would come home, I would think, “Cincinnati is pretty nice.” We have a lot of the wonderful things that these other bigger cities have, without all the traffic and the cost. I feel blessed to be here. New Mexico I like, but it's 500 miles to anywhere else… to Denver, Dallas, or Phoenix. Here within 250 miles, there's anything you could ever want to do. It's cheap to fly out of here, and it is a lovely place to raise a family. There's good values and good opportunities in the park systems. There is a lot to offer here… and the creative arts. When people say, “Oh, there's nothing to do here,” I think, “Then you’re not looking very hard.” There’s just so many ways to meet people and do things that suit you.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Peggy: I like to do yoga, and, I haven't recently, but volunteer at the Cincinnati Observatory. I volunteer with Meg at Girls on the Run. All through [my children’s] schools, I would fundraise for Milford High School After Prom. We used to raise $50,000 to put on the After Prom. Sadly, I don't think they do it anymore because there aren't enough parents to help.
I like to give back to the community. I volunteer at Crossroads. It just feels good to be a part of something, help that community become a better place. That’s what we want to do here, as well. I would like to buy a whole bunch of umbrellas that we can bring here and everybody keeps in their car. If you see somebody walking down the street or at a bus stop, to be able to give things away… Or gloves in the wintertime. There's people that don't have the things that we have. I want to hear what our communities have to say because if we can help, you know, gather coats or whatever the causes are, everyone has something in their heart. We want to build up our community and serve the community outside of this house.
I’m just passionate about women building community.
- Meg Cooper
Meg: Ideally, I would like to have a nonprofit each month that we're doing things for. One of my friends from high school started the Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank. So, collecting diapers for a month, or for Girls on the Run… It's $160 to send a girl through the program who's not able to do it. Let’s sponsor five girls so they can do the program!
Meg, what's your background and how did you get to where you are today?
Meg: I grew up in Cincinnati and I went away for school to the University of South Carolina. I got my undergraduate degree in visual communications and Spanish. I graduated during the recession, so I went to grad school at UC and got a master’s in information systems. I started doing software consulting right off the bat. I've never worked in like, a real office space; I’ve always either worked from my house or traveled to client sites. It’s funny: I work in a predominantly male environment. I was the only woman at my company for two or three years. I started at a startup, also, so I was employee number eight, and we're at 100 people now. I love being in a startup environment, building things up. People are like, “Don't you miss working with women?” And I’m like, “No.” Especially in software. It’s competitive. For some reason it's like, both of us can't win.
Peggy: That’s sad, isn't it? They want to be the one that shines.
What was it like being in that environment?
Meg: I didn’t mind working with all men. We obviously have more and more women that are working in our company, but I wasn't getting interaction at my house. My husband would come home and I would chat his ear off as soon as he walked in the door. I went away for school, so I don't have college friends here. Most of my friends from high school didn't move back. I started getting involved in Junior League, Cincinnati Parks Board, and Girls on the Run. I’m probably overly involved in the community. I ended a lot of my volunteer things in May. My whole entire life ended this month with this opening. But I’m just passionate about women building community. I just feel like women crave community. If you're not involved in a church – like we go to Crossroads, and so we have small groups – but I just feel like outside of mostly religious organizations, it's very hard to find that community. We’re starting a book club here for everyone. People are really excited about it because they just want an opportunity to connect with people. That's what I feel very passionate about at all different levels.
Who has been an influential woman in each of your lives?
Peggy: I think my mom was for me. I say the same things to my kids as she said to me as far as, “You might not like what I have to say and you can pretend like you're not listening, but there's information I’m going to tell you and at least it's in your head. Later you'll have this information.” I just feel like it's up to us to give them as much information as they can possibly have. Not just take over what they do, but to teach them and tell them why we do things the way we do, so they can make decisions when you're not there. That's what my mom taught me. I talk to her every single day. She's in New Mexico and I get to tell her those things back. She feels proud. She did a great job teaching us all the things that we needed to know, and to be strong. She is so excited to see this space. She'll be coming when the baby comes.
Meg: I’d say my mom, too. My dad was an alcoholic and traveled for work; he did consulting, also. He would travel Sunday through Thursday, come home, not be around, and then leave again. It was really just the three of us: my mom, my brother, and me. My grandma actually moved out here and lived with us until my brother graduated from high school. It was just very inspirational. I feel like a lot of people who come out of stressful family situations aren't successful because, by need, the mom or whoever is taking care of them isn't able to keep building into them. Mom always said, “This is not a normal house. This is not how families are supposed to be.”
Peggy: We openly discussed what was happening. I said, “I don't want to pretend like everything's hunky dory.” That's the sickness of alcoholism. That's why alcoholism is a family disease. And I thought, “This is not going to be a family disease. This is not how a family is.” And even my husband – we would openly discuss it with him: “If Dad makes you feel uncomfortable, walk away.” And he would say, “Walk away, because I don't want to hurt you guys, either.” We don't know why that happens and we know it's a disease. We were not going to have an unhealthy family. I think it made us all closer and I feel like my kids have better coping skills than average kids because we discussed what was happening. Most parents just hide everything from their kids, trying to protect them, and that is not protection. It’s not preparing them for eventual things that they're going to experience.
Meg: She raised two, I think, very strong, successful children on her own. My brother’s a 26-year-old and he's over here helping us do all kinds of stuff. We're just a very tight family unit who care and support each other. I want to build a family like that, also.
If you’re looking for a new coworking spot in Cincinnati or you just want to meet this amazing mother-daughter duo, our July Boozy Hour will be the perfect opportunity to come check out what Gather Cincy has to offer! Join us at 2345 Ashland Ave in East Walnut Hills on July 24 from 6-8 p.m.