Need a Breather?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Atlantic Cities describes a new business, Breather, that offers short-term bookings of office and meeting space. The founder realized the need for such a service after a large amount of business travel caused him to become painfully aware of the shortcomings of such places as hotel lobbies and coffee shops.

As of late March, there were five Breather locations in Montreal and five in New York, with a rollout in San Francisco slated for May and another in Boston to follow later this year. Naturally, I wanted to test-drive a couple of the spaces, so I downloaded the free app -- the icon, a simple white circle with a friendly little green tree inside, is appropriately soothing -- and quickly booked a Breather near Penn Station, in midtown Manhattan. In the app, you can find Breather locations on a map, browse photos and room details, and reserve a space for anywhere from 30 minutes to an entire workday. Prices are accessible: $25 per hour in New York, $15 (Canadian) in Montreal.


Breather's Penn Station location is in a nondescript office building on Eighth Avenue. As I waited for the elevator, juggling hot coffee and my bags, I was grateful not to have to talk to anyone to check in. At the door, identified by the little green tree, I punched in the code that was sent to my phone, and entered. And that was it. Did I sigh with relief when I closed the door behind me, taking in the daylight streaming through the large window, the comfy couch, the elegant Edison-bulb chandelier, the worktable with its friendly jar of Tootsie Rolls? Absolutely.
The service is similar to the Lyft ride-sharing app, in that it helps people with extra capacity make money from people who need it for a short time:
Since one of the best uses of Breather is as on-the-fly meeting space, I visited with [founder Julien] Smith at one of his newest locations, in the Flatiron District. It was so new, in fact, that he hadn't been there yet. The company acquires its commercial spaces through a combination of rent and revenue sharing with local property owners. Because the spaces are small, ranging from 130 to 400 square feet, they aren't easily usable by traditional business tenants. As a result, they are often vacant. But these small, well-situated downtown spaces by definition make for attractive Breathers.
This is an idea whose time has come, particularly for business travelers, but Smith isn't limiting himself to that market. His first locations in his home town of Montreal taught him that there is a need -- not always from travelers -- for a similar service in smaller markets.

Some time ago, a commenter on a post about an Internet service I used to get a cheap car part shipped to my home noted the basic principle behind the usefulness of the Internet -- lowering transaction costs of information exchange. I never tire of seeing the new ways people keep inventing to take advantage of this economical way of facilitating trade.

-- CAV

P.S. Lyft just launched in St. Louis, and I saw my first mustachioed car that day, and before I heard about it in local media. Predictably, the government taxi monopoly will seek an injunction against it, rather than improve the way it does business.

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