“All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.”
― Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower
This is yet another story about a local business closing during the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic. But while it, too, is something of a sad story, it’s not the tale of an avaricious landlord, nor of a business owner who has been left bereft, without hope or direction. In fact, Talia Bolnick, owner of The Hatchery Press, the N. Larchmont Blvd. co-working space for writers, which closed on December 31 – just one day shy of its sixth anniversary – is using the words of author Octavia Butler, quoted above, to guide her through the transition. “You can’t avoid change,” Bolnick said, paraphrasing Butler, “You can only harvest it.”
The Hatchery opened on January 1, 2015, to provide both space and community for local writers. And over the years, it succeeded on both fronts, eventually expanding to a second building on its lot at the NW corner of N. Larchmont Blvd. and Clinton St. The facility provided work spaces, tools of the trade such as printers and copiers, a kitchen with free coffee and tea, along with classes and events…and the much more intangible benefit of community for those in what is often a very solitary profession.
It was also a family affair for Bolnick. Her mother, Suzanne Phillips, owns the property and was the business’ landlord, while her fiancé, Luis Quintanilla, was the business manager, handyman, and all-around “glue” that “made everything work,” says Bolnick.
But then came the pandemic, and the whipsawing between closures and re-openings that many businesses have suffered this year, which were especially difficult for The Hatchery to navigate because of its essentially communal nature.
Bolnick said she first closed the facility on March 12 last year, just a couple of days before the first official Safer at Home order was issued by LA County. The decision, Bolnick told the Buzz, was not made lightly, but came after “so many conversations” about the safety of staff and clients, and the communal nature of the space. Bolnick said the decision was both emotional and taxing for her, but she initially intended the closure to be short, maybe just a couple of weeks.
Because of the virus’s trajectory, however, she wasn’t able to come back until what she calls a “soft re-open” in May, allowing Hatchery members to come in by appointment only. Bolnick said there wasn’t too much demand at that point, so they only used one of the business’ two bulidings, kept the windows open all the time, and everyone who came signed a safety pledge committing to wearing masks and using gloves when using the copier. And she said everyone was happy to comply with the new protocols.
“The Hatchery has always been very human,” she said, and there were no issues with compliance. “My number one was I didn’t want anyone to get sick.”
In June, Bolnick says she re-opened the second building…but then wound up closing the whole place again in July. She had another soft-open in August, but by that point, she says, use was even more sparse. Every writer had their own room with a fan running…and it was getting expensive to maintain operations (though not as expensive, she notes, as some other businesses like restaurants, which were suffering through similar opening and closing cycles).
Meanwhile, Bolnick and Quintanilla married in October, and when the business prospects didn’t improve in the next few weeks, they decided in November to close the Hatchery for good at the end of December. They sent a newsletter announcing the decision to Hatchery members on November 12, hoping the six weeks’ notice would give members time to transition to other workspaces and say goodbye.
Bolnick said there were still about 10 people using the space in December, and it was nice to have that time to process the closure.
“Response from the community was also heartbreaking, meaningful, and beautiful. All those things,” she said. But at the same time, she says trying to keep the doors open could have been even more painful, and the decision to move on was probably best. “To keep going [we] would have been looking at a two-year slog to maybe become profitable again. All I remember is how hard it was the fist time.” Or, as she wrote in her Nov. 12 letter:
“…you cannot run a business that doesn’t make money. Like many businesses this year, we aren’t making any money and it will be a long time before we would be in a position to do so.”
Also, at the same time, Bolnick said she and Luis, who want to start a family soon, realized they would have an easier time doing that outside of LA, and they decided to move to Denver, where Bolnick’s mother has also relocated.
And that’s where the story takes a much more optimistic turn. As Bolnick put it in her newsletter to Hatchery members:
“Luis and I are moving to Colorado, where I will live as a kept woman in the mountains for a little, painting and writing and yoga-ing, taking care of chickens and being a modest home-owner and having friends come visit and having babies and, like, shoveling snow maybe? Building raised beds in my garage/woodworking studio and then filling them with carrots and lettuce? Working through some shit and hibernating a little? I don’t know, but I’m pumped to find out.”
So the events of the last year weren’t all bleak. “The pandemic has also given people, including me, the opportunity to reconsider life,” Bolnick told us last week. “And once the choice was made for us,” she said, the new horizons looked much rosier.
Bolnick landed in Colorado in mid-January and is now in the process of hunting for that modest dream home and deliberately taking some time off to get settled. “I’m basically getting a gap year out of it,” and being able to do that as an adult, she said, is a true gift.
Also, Quintanilla will be teaming with Phillips to form a new management company for some buildings Phillips owns in Denver, and the two will also be flipping houses there. (Phillips will be selling the Hatchery buildings in LA.)
So while letting the Hatchery go was hard, Bolnick said, the future looks fine, and she’s simultaneously experiencing the “first grief of my life, but also excitement and joy.”