Soapbox

Stop being such cheapskates, Sacramento

Janna Marlies Maron
Janna Marlies Maron

Earlier this month my husband, Jeremy Maron, and I announced our decision to close ThinkHouse Collective, the co-working space we have owned and operated in midtown Sacramento for four years.

We’ve had a great run of it. Starting at 11th and R streets, ThinkHouse’s first two years were in a charming, albeit funky, yellow house-turned-office (hence the name). We loved its quirks, but the independent business community didn’t love it as much and the space wasn’t as functional as we would have liked. So we moved to a more traditional office building at 18th and Q streets – and things clicked. Complete with a reception counter and official lobby, the new building immediately gave visitors an understanding of what ThinkHouse was all about.

There is much to celebrate from the past four years: hosting multiple CinemaSpeak screenings and discussions; launching several businesses and organizations including LiquidPixel, Sacramento Bloggers and Under the Gum Tree; and sponsoring cool community events such as SacTweetUp and Listen To Your Mother.

Still, our new digs proved to be not quite enough for ThinkHouse to make a go of it, and I’m bummed.

I am not bummed that we spent four years of our lives dedicated to fostering community and independent business and helping others be successful. What I am bummed about is that for all the talk about supporting local businesses, Sacramento has a long way to go toward putting its money where its mouth is.

I can’t tell you how many times people would come into ThinkHouse saying how much they love the space and what we are doing for the city – and simultaneously balk at our prices, which were below market rate. We were not in it to get rich, and still people would ask for a deal or a discount.

Here’s a secret: The independent culture that Sacramento loves so much can’t sustain itself without support. And by support I mean cold, hard cash.

Someone has to say it: Sacramento is cheap. Yes, we have a lower cost of living, but that does not mean things are free. Nor should they be.

I get it. We all have bills to pay. We don’t always have a surplus to spend frivolously. But that is not the kind of spending I am talking about. I am talking about the kind of spending that demonstrates values by supporting the things we claim to love. And the truth is that running a business – especially an independent business – is not only hard work but also expensive.

I am not complaining about the cost of doing business. But I am calling out this ingrained attitude that seems pervasive here in Sacramento that everything should be free. And I’m not alone here. Just look at the list of venues that have closed recently. Take a venue like the Witch Room, for example, that brings in great indie music and other local acts for usually less than $10, and yet we don’t pack the house.

Why is this? Dare I say it’s because of some misguided sense of entitlement that we work hard for our money and at the end of the day we should be rewarded for our hard work with a little free entertainment? Or free workspace?

But here’s the rub: The folks running the venue where that entertainment is performed, and the folks providing the entertainment, and the folks operating that workspace – they work just as hard and deserve to get paid, too.

So it’s time to step up, Sacramento. We don’t want to be the cheapskate, uncultured stepchild from the sticks anymore, do we? And we certainly don’t want our identity to be co-opted by big-box brands. ThinkHouse Collective is no more, and Jeremy and I are OK with that. We have made the best decision for our life.

But that doesn’t mean we want to see the same fate for other local businesses or artists, which will only continue to happen unless Sacramento starts showing its love the best way we Americans know how – by spending money.

Janna Marlies Maron, former owner of ThinkHouse Collective, is an author, writing instructor and publisher of the literary magazine “Under the Gum Tree.”

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