Cultivated Synergy found itself between a rock and a hard place when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. A co-working space by day and an occasional cannabis-friendly host by night, the venue at 2901 Walnut Street saw its membership cut in half and event revenue disappear virtually overnight.
"We did get approved for a PPP loan. It took three applications — and it didn't cover a month's rent in our Walnut location. So it was great to get that check, but we had to pretty much write it away, and we were essentially in the same spot we were before," says co-founder Connor Lux.
Cultivated Synergy has since left Walnut Street and is currently facing a lawsuit over missed rent payments, but Lux calls it a "weird situation" he's trying to rectify after "being offered zero help" from his landlord at the height of the pandemic. Lux and company are now in a co-working space at 2601 Blake Street, and they plan to organize events at the Marijuana Mansion, the focus of our October 22 cover story.
We recently caught up with Lux to learn more about how Cultivated Synergy plans to bounce back, and where co-working spaces and cannabis events are headed.
Westword: How did the dominoes start falling for Cultivated Synergy — a co-working space that hosts events — during the pandemic?
Connor Lux: We still had tons of events on our schedule, and we'd pushed a ton back to work through the situation as best we could. But the events never really returned, especially given how the venue was set up. Denver has made it difficult, too, and that's frustrating now that the Broncos are having attendance. The event industry in general feels like we're stuck in the last line of what's being addressed. Every time you hear an update from [Governor] Polis, it's about bars and restaurants, but there's still a huge amount of business that doesn't fall into that category.
Co-working didn't get hit as bad. We lost about 50 percent of our membership immediately, and that hurt, but I was surprised that it wasn't worse, so that was sort of the shining light in the whole scenario. We have a rock-solid community that has stuck through, whether it was continuing to benefit however they could with the space, or throwing us $100 a month as they kept their own businesses going. All things considered, we feel blessed and supported by those who've stayed on with us.
We've also seen people slowly come back to co-working and an uptick in general interest in co-working. People may have worked from home for months or their corporate offices are closing, and that's helped slowly grow the co-working community back. I think we'll see overall growth eventually on that front, as long as we weather the storm. But this has still been a one-two punch to the face, for sure. The events were always the face of things, but our co-working has been the core. So we're going to focus on that even more right now and keep an eye on events for the future.
We're not screwed, or anything like that. We're just getting our feet back and growing again. Our original 2020 plan was to open more locations in other states, including a Las Vegas location, and we plan to get back to that once the pandemic is over.
Have you been able to hold any private cannabis events since the pandemic began?
Not really. We've done some really small networking things for businesses, but it's much smaller in terms of what's in person. The Walnut building was big and open, but Denver's venue-capacity guidelines didn't allow us to have more than 37 people in there for a few months. Something that small isn't worth the money and time, and I'm not sure we could even get that many people to do it during the outbreak.
So you've moved into a new place?
We moved three blocks away, to Blake and Broadway, to keep doing the co-working and shared office spaces, and we're looking for more real estate for the long term. We've also started working with the Marijuana Mansion to manage the events at that venue. It's for more smaller-scale events, which is great during COVID-19. We're just starting to ramp that up now. We still want an option for an event venue, but our current office space just doesn't have that.
Towns were just starting to consider pot hospitality before the pandemic. How much more has COVID-19 stalled the progress of social consumption venues and businesses in Colorado?
COVID-19 has dragged the process out even longer. I don't think anything has been accomplished in Denver for months. We've been on a couple of work groups the city has held, and wanted to be a part of the regulatory and political process as we've grown. Our relationship with the city has really grown over the years. When we first started, police were always called on our events, and we were constantly arguing our points. But once the marijuana policy office got a new director, Ashley Kilroy, things really changed, from my perspective, and became more progressive.
The entire process wasn't moving very fast to begin with, though. It's been four years since Denver's first social consumption ordinance passed; that lack of movement is frustrating from our business standpoint. We don't like having to deal with loopholes and having to do business that way. It's always been a slow-moving and slow-learning process, but I think it will still move forward eventually. It will be weird once it does, though, because thinking about holding an event with a lot of people who are smoking and sharing — that seems so much harder than it used to be. And it wasn't easy to begin with.
Cultivated Synergy was one of the few places in town where the cannabis industry could host parties. How supportive has the cannabis industry been since the pandemic began?
A lot of our members are involved in the cannabis industry, and I was surprised at how many stayed on. Overall, the industry has been supportive, and I couldn't ask for anything more. Everyone's hurting right now, and I hate coming off with a negative or woe-is-me mentality, but people still reach out, and it's been nice to have those people and groups around. It means more than it ever did, and it meant a lot to begin with.
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