A cultural space for connecting communities
In just a few short years, North Minneapolis’ New Rules has become a community fixture for co-working and co-mingling. Dubbed by its founder Christopher Webley as a “playground for creatives,” the large brick building and its open floor plans represent the hybrid growth of the city and its residents.
There, you can rent out shared working spaces, host community and social events, and, more recently, buy a smoothie or handcrafted sandwich via its PESCA Cafe & House of Fresh.
Webley has been consistent with his desire to support community engagement and creative entrepreneurship for a community that hasn’t always been visible or valued. He said he first got inspired to do real estate from seeing someone else in the Black community who had found success in it. His business is an extension of that: creating space for growth and development, through real estate, for the community.
The MSR sat down with Webley to learn more about his business and its impact on the community.
MSR: What was the inspiration behind your business?
Christopher Webley: I started New Rules because I wanted to see a different set of behaviors being modeled to address problem-solving. I’m an engineer by trade, and we created this on the premise of wanting to create an ecosystem that allowed people to thrive and walk into their light.
MSR: You went to school for engineering?
CW: I went to school for textile engineering. I worked in corporate retail for Victoria’s Secret and Target. The discipline in engineering is all about problem-solving.
MSR: How or in what ways is your business solving problems?
CW: We provide high-tech equipment, space and resources to expand creative and professional capabilities, build innovation in the community, and contribute to economic growth for individuals and the region.
MSR: And you do that with your services?
CW: We have three different work streams: Workspace and monthly rental fees. [Clients] can rent out the space for meetings. At night, we rent the space out for events. We also have a café and a gallery where we sell art from our artists.
MSR: What makes your space stand out?
CW: Our café is the invitation to our space. We want to use it as a way to have people come in. Come try our new smoothies and juices. We have a lot of savory soups, salads and sandwiches. We definitely want people to start seeing our space as a cultural space for people to connect and build together.
MSR: How do you feel like your business impacts the community?
CW: A big part of the impact on the community is community, culture and connectedness. People have bought into the idea of the North Side and see themselves as progressing collectively. One of our members just got a contract through Kemps, and she’s been hiring everyone throughout the collective to activate that contract.
We’ve given a lot of people their first shot. Many of the people that had their first show here, it was their first shot showing it here. We like taking those risks on new artists. That’s what our name, “New Rules,” is all about.
MSR: What has been the most rewarding part of starting this business?
CW: I’ve been able to see the looks on little kids’ faces when they walk by and they see me and know that someone that looks like them and is like them owns this building and business.
MSR: How important is that sort of connection?
CW: The biggest piece for me is that representation matters. I remember when I was 24, living in Ohio. I met a Black kid that was 22 at the time who owned over 20 properties. I was like, ‘You’re Black, you’re living in the hood, you’re younger than me, you didn’t go to college, and you have 20 properties? I have a college degree and I don’t even own a single property!’
I knew about real estate development long before he came into the picture. For me, even as a textile engineer, I never knew I’d be working at Victoria’s Secret and could engineer bras as a Black man from the South. But because my first manager was a Black man from the South who studied the same thing, he hired me. I had the same experience as he did, and I looked like him. That representation matters.”
MSR: What was your biggest challenge getting started?
CW: I didn’t know what I was doing! Anybody that tells you starting a business is [easy] is a liar.
At first, it was getting funding started for the project. I had to do it myself. I’m glad we had to take that route, because it forced us to be thoughtful about how we spent our money and prioritizing. I built this all by myself with the help of one guy that helped teach me some of the construction.
MSR: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
CW: The first thing is to get started — everything is dependent on you. A lot of the businesses that I’ve seen stall and not get started is because the visionary of the idea never got started. Get started and get started first by yourself.
The second bit of advice is persistence. I have a saying: “Life is five percent what happens and 95 percent how you respond to it.”
MSR: What vision and goals do you have for your business?
CW: Our vision is to franchise it. Whether we’re going to franchise it in the future or not, who knows? I’m at the point in my life where I’m thinking about legacy. I believe we’re planting seeds for the next generation with the work we’re doing.
New Rules is located on the corner of 2015 Lowry Ave. N. in Minneapolis. To learn more, visit newrulesmn.com.
Chris Juhn is a contributing photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.