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Eighty One: Don't call it a coffee shop

Main Street space connects the entrepreneurs, professionals and creatives of Whistler

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If there's one thing Heidi Lidholm wants you to know about Eighty One, Main Street's new creative meeting space, it's this: "We're not a coffee shop."

That doesn't mean you can't score an exquisite cup of joe — Eighty One pours ethically sourced coffee from Victoria roasters Bows X Arrows — but if a half-foam, low-fat, soy-milk moccacino is more your style, you'll have to look elsewhere.

"While we serve excellent fresh brew and we really want to become known as the best-brewed coffee in Whistler, we're not an espresso company," explained Lidholm, who co-founded the shop with Adam Vavrik. "If we don't have an espresso machine, I know we're missing a big chunk of the market, but I'd rather take that risk right now so that it's still a work environment. If you have steaming milk coming and people shouting orders, it puts up that barrier to work."

Opened last month on the ground floor of the Summit Lodge, Eighty One grew out of Lidholm's desire to fill a niche in the community for creative professionals and entrepreneurs.

"I guess it was a little bit self-serving because I came here with an online business last year and found it difficult, first of all, to meet other business people, and secondly, it was hard to find a really good place to work," she said. Lidholm tried the standard coffee-shop routine, but could never quite find a distraction-free space that fostered her productivity. She's also spent many an hour over the years in co-working spaces in London, Berlin and Bali, but she still missed "the water-cooler banter" of a less formal work environment.

"It wasn't fulfilling that need for freedom that I really had when I moved out on my own. So what I wanted to create here was this dining-room-table, sitting-room concept," Lidholm said. "It opens it up to be that more casual and creative work environment that can turn into an event space, into a brainstorming space. It just makes people feel more comfortable right from the get-go."

The founders' steadfast devotion to preserving an inviting workspace means the tiniest of details have been considered. The minimalist design emphasizes sleek, symmetrical lines. The walls and tables are free from clutter — no kitschy artwork or stacks of magazines — in order to nurture "a thinking environment." Even the furniture has been precisely arranged down to the inch so as not to distract.

"I think people come in and breathe a breath of fresh air seeing white walls and geometric lines," Lidholm said. "We wanted the geometry to be strong; we believe in that symmetry and geometry in business, so we wanted to bring that into the physical realm, too."

Lidholm envisions Eighty One serving as a hub for both local professionals and creatives, as well as entrepreneurs visiting from out of town. "We really want to put Whistler on the map for tech entrepreneurs," she said.

But, ultimately, the location is designed to adapt to the needs of the community, and could play host to a wide range of events, be it an early-morning yoga class or a late-night comedy show. There are even talks of bringing in local chefs to host pop-up dinners. (The shop also serves homemade sandwiches, soups, salads and gluten-free muffins from Olives Community Market in Function.)

"Our core philosophy is to always evolve. It's not that we're saying we're going to try things and then just drop them, but we're really building towards a vision," said Lidholm.

Eighty One offers a few different payment options for patrons: An individual could pop in for a couple hours and buy a sandwich, for instance, or, for longer stays, pay a flat $5 drop-in fee that comes with a cup of tea or coffee, effectively removing the pressure "to buy something every hour" that many feel at a traditional café. The $50-a-month membership offers even more perks: discounted food and local business deals, a printer, a locker, the use of Eighty One's postal box, and access to the space afterhours. Groups can also book out workspace in three-hour chunks.

For more information, visit 81whistler.com.

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