It sounded like a dream: a health club for nerds, only instead of treadmills and weight sets, members paid $125/month to work with CNC routers, laser cutters, and other high-end gadgets. The first of three TechShops opened in Menlo Park, California in 2006 but two more, one in Beaverton OR and the other in Durham, NC followed.
Currently, only the Cali shop remains open.
In a Toolmonger.com forum thread, TechShop Durham founder Scott Saxon blamed the economy:
We have just under 25,000 sf here and secured our lease, as did Portland, during financially good times. The economy tanked right after we both started. Lack of funding is not the reason for anything. The reason we are moving is the landlord is unwilling to adjust to the current times. The rent here is simply too much.
We are moving to a much cheaper facility and with our present membership, about the same as Portland, we will succeed in 2010. I believe Portland will do the same. This is not political speak. This is just the way it is as told by the numbers.
Could it also be that the shops are experiencing member drain from the burgeoning hackerspace movement?
What do you think, readers? Is the day of the giant franchised TechShop over, to replaced by smaller, leaner, nonprofit hackerspaces? Will Portland and RDU bounce back along with the economy? Leave your thoughts in comments.
Note: A member of the Portland community asked me to link to the TechShop Portland forums which has additional discussion of the situation there.