Calgary

Why this Calgary coffee shop is becoming a hub for social media creators to work and gather

A Calgary coffee shop that caters to “creators” — like photographers, vloggers and those with a social media presence — has become a community hub in the city for virtual workers.

One freelancer says it's helped him form a network with other photographers

Socality House at 813 17th Ave. S.W. has become a gathering place for creative types who want to network, explore ideas and enjoy some coffee. (Socality)

A Calgary coffee shop that caters to "creators" — like photographers, vloggers and those with a social media presence — has become a meetup spot for virtual workers.

Socality House, on 17th Avenue S.W., opened at the tail end of 2021.

The owner, Scott Bakken, says it's more than a cafe and it's designed to be a gathering place for people to connect in person.

"We're not just a coffee shop. We're using coffee as a leader to get people in because we know people love conversation around good coffee," he said.

"We're different in the sense that when someone walks in here, they can look around and go, 'What can be done here?'"

Some cafes in the city prefer that customers don't linger too long so business stays busy, or have even removed their tables and chairs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

But at Socality House, which has two levels, there are couches and tables meant for people to work at.

So far, Bakken says, people have used the space to play chess, make gingerbread cookies and, most notably, work on their online presence.

"Either it's networking connection into opportunities, artistry, photography, or just building your own brand and being successful as a young entrepreneur and not feeling so alone," he said.

"Now you [will] have other resources to rely on to ask those questions."

He says the idea for Socality House was born out of the community group Socality, which started in Calgary in 2014. Its goal was to connect creatives online and in-person using social media and live events across the world.

"Instagram was the app that really brought discovery of people in other markets. And I feel like we were early adopters to find that," Bakken said.

"Everyone had been around on Instagram, but we were the ones to bring it together in a way of community."

Socality now has international members, dozens of events and workshops geared toward photography and content creation. However, it was the physical space of Socality House that brought everything into motion.

Freelancers set up shop

Bakken says they designed the cafe so that it felt like a home for people to come in and do some work.

"We want to provide opportunities for people to grow their skill sets in their art or business, entrepreneurship," he said, adding there is no membership fee to use the space.

"You can do anything as long as they're not disrupting people during business hours."

Since opening, it's been used for portrait sessions, recording jam sessions and as a shop space for bloggers to sell clothes.

Glenn Thomson, a self-employed illustrator and photographer, says even before the pandemic, most of his connections were online.

Now, he says, working at the coffee shop has introduced him to people in the same network as him.

"When I started hanging out there, I started meeting a lot of people that I had just seen online and had known about for even a couple of years."

He says that most days, he will park at a table at Socality House and work for hours — something he usually just did from his bedroom before.

"For freelancers, having a place like that to go has been such a respite, especially these days," he said. "I can choose to leave the house if I want to go hang out and be around people."

He adds that knowing that customers are likely involved in a creative or virtual industry has also pushed him to frequent there.

Dan Devoe, a brain and mental health researcher with the department of psychology at Mount Royal University, says this isn't surprising to hear.

"They have very similar interests, and so it helps you build that social connection."

For those who are freelancing or self-employed, the professor says, they may not have an established network in their field, which in turn could lead to social isolation.

"In this instance, you might be going to a coffee shop and then being exposed to a new network of people that you wouldn't get exposure to in the online world," Devoe said. "It opens more doors for you."

He says the business model is tapping into something that could become more appealing to people — and it's likely more venues like this will start popping up.

"People are going there to get fulfilment, and it's something that they're not getting in a virtual environment."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalie Valleau is a journalist with CBC News. She grew up in Okotoks, Alta., and completed her undergrad at Mount Royal University and Masters of Journalism and Communications at Western University.

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