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Office space is so scarce in San Francisco that startups are fighting to work at the mall

Bespoke Westfield coworking space
Alice Truong/Quartz
Working at the mall is so glamorous.
By Alice Truong

Deputy editor

Published Last updated on This article is more than 2 years old.

For a fledgling startup, finding an office in San Francisco can be a real nightmare. Rents are now climbing past $60 a square foot, second only to Manhattan in the US, and occupancy rates are the lowest in the country, according to brokerage firm CBRE.

This means young startups have to get creative if they insist on staying within the city. And Westfield, one of the world’s largest mall operators, has a solution for them: Bespoke, a 37,000-square-foot (3,400 sq m) coworking and event space within its shopping center in downtown San Francisco. For $385 a month, entrepreneurs can park themselves at a shared desk and get access to the kinds of amenities that have become commonplace at tech companies, like a bocce ball court, bouldering wall, foosball tables, and even nap pods. Private offices for two people run $1,450 a month.

Alice Truong/Quartz
Membership perks include a bocce ball court (don’t worry, the grass is fake)…
Alice Truong/Quartz
…and a rock wall.

There is some irony to innovation happening inside the mall, a place where plenty of Americans idle away their time when there’s nothing better to do. But Westfield is hoping the unique location, which saw around 20 million people walk through its doors last year, will provide retail startups in particular with an environment that will encourage experimentation. Some of its conference rooms open up directly to the mall, so they can transform into pop-up stores for companies to test new products and concepts.

Crowdfunding startup Indiegogo and Product Hunt, a site that helps people find new tech gadgets and services, both showcased products in these pop-up spaces during Bespoke’s opening last week (May 28). “We’re finding there’s a lot of great companies that start online, but want to expand offline,” Westfield’s chief digital officer, Kevin McKenzie, tells Quartz.

But as real estate goes in San Francisco, getting in won’t be easy. All seven private offices were snapped up even before Bespoke opened its doors, and there’s a waiting list for desks. Prospective members (except those visiting on $35 day passes) have to fill out an application detailing the problems—ideally related to retail—their startups hope to solve. To make sure people don’t game the system, Westfield says it’ll also keep an eye on repeat visitors who buy day passes.

In case you can’t get in, here’s a virtual tour of the coworking space:

Nestled between retail stores and the movie theaters, Bespoke is a coworking space on the fourth floor of the Westfield Shopping Centre in downtown San Francisco.
The 18,000-square-foot event space (entrance pictured here) used to be a Borders bookstore.
Alice Truong/Quartz
Because of Bespoke’s location inside a mall, Westfield is hoping to attract retail startups.
Alice Truong/Quartz
StyleLend, a startup that runs a clothing rental business, has a photo studio set up at Bespoke to take pictures of users so they can preview how an outfit will look on them.
Alice Truong/Quartz
Pictured: the dining area.
Alice Truong/Quartz
The library includes nap pods for people to catch some zzzs.
Alice Truong/Quartz
Nerd speak for: There’s no place like home.
Alice Truong/Quartz
Rent for Bespoke ranges from $385 a month for a shared desk to $1,450 for a private office for two.

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