Owner of Tellus360 doesn't have master plan but does know how he'd like world to changeSmall Business Week 2013
No, the titular number in Tellus360 is not how many business operations owner Joe Devoy aspires to have under the roof of his long building in downtown Lancaster.
Rather, it's a nod to the organic wholeness, integrity and community that Devoy wants to permeate everything his team does. These days, that list is flourishing: What started several years ago as a small store selling green goods, Irish antiques and items made from reclaimed wood is morphing at nearly warp speed into a hive of activity that defies easy description.
"We're not going to be a pub, we're not going to be a shop, we're not going to be a performance space," says Mairtin Lally, Tellus360's general manager. "We're going to be a little bit of all of it."
At the end of a makeover dubbed the Amplification Project, the 24,000-square-foot facility at 24 E. King St. will sport a liquor license, performance spaces of various sizes and, Devoy hopes, an events and activities roster teeming with musical, artistic, theatrical and educational life for all ages.
"I think there's room for us to be alongside the Ware Center and the Chameleon Club and all the other fine venues here," Devoy says, and not without reason. The expansion was not part of any master plan, but instead a vision inspired by what happened as Tellus360 began taking an active role in the community. There have already been yoga classes on its 10,000-square-foot green roof, writing workshops, TableTop sessions with live music and potluck, Music Fridays, hooping classes, a food tour and more.
"It sounds much more complicated than it is," Devoy says. "I think all we're doing really is providing opportunities for other people than ourselves to be successful. We're clearing the space and maybe looking at things a little bit differently to say, 'This can work here.'"
Says Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, "We look forward to continuing to support Joe's work to provide exciting and unique retail and entertainment options to the Lancaster community."
Jason Mundok, founder of the Lancaster arts blog Wood Stove House, also sees promise in Tellus360.
"In a very short couple years, Tellus360 became a coveted room to play in Lancaster for area musicians," Mundok says. "By booking very high-quality local and touring musicians, they have built a reputation for putting on great shows to the point where oftentimes people go without even really knowing who will be playing. That's awesome."
Mundok doesn't think Devoy will have any trouble achieving his goals with the new performance spaces, because, he said, Tellus360 has been treating everyone involved with hospitality, dignity and respect. And, he says, "Lancaster's support of live, original music seems to be consistently growing year after year. Proof of that is in all of the concerts being held in found spaces around town that are all consistently filled to capacity."
The current operations, Devoy says, are on track to turn a profit this year; because of the various changes being made in the building, he's not sure exactly where previous years' balance sheets landed, but the store "does better every month, every year," and he expects the new ventures to stand on their own feet financially as well. Philosophically anti-debt, he's providing the funding himself.
This isn't Devoy's first business venture. A native of Ireland, he came to America on a college soccer scholarship in 1988 and then got into construction. In the mid '90s, he took over what is now ARA Construction, which is licensed in 37 states and does a lot of commercial work. He's president of the Maryland-based company but says his partners currently have more involvement with the day-to-day operations.
"Tellus360 is the first thing I ever built for myself," he says.
"Everything you ran away from in Ireland, the market kind of reminded you of. It was almost a bit like coming home when you went through it, saw the community, the friendliness of it and the connectivity of it all."
Devoy also said he wanted to find a good way to use reclaimed wood from construction projects, and Tellus360 has given him that. The timing was good, he says; demand is rising, and their projects roster includes big installations for Staples and Whole Foods.
"Our goal is to reuse as much as we can, and to make something cool," he says, noting that the wood is also stronger for having come from older trees and seasoned for a long time. And he likes telling the stories of where the wood was and what it became.
"There is a shift — I'm convinced people care how we're living," Devoy says. "I think we are shifting back to a perspective where value and quality matters, and beauty."
As for the future of Tellus360, Devoy expects it will continue to evolve.
"The goal is to simplify it," he says, "and we will work very well to do that and — yeah, I have no idea what it will be like in five years."
Many irons in the fire
A lot is already happening at 24 E. King St., Lancaster, and what the Tellus360 crew has dubbed the Amplification Project will only add more. Here’s a look at what they plan to be offering and coordinating once everything is finished.
• Retail store selling assorted ecologically friendly goods, including Saprinu products benefiting an education project in Nepal, reclaimed wood furniture and electric guitars and Irish antiques
• Design+Build, offering custom reclaimed wood projects for private homes or large-scale commercial installations as far abroad as Virginia and Massachusetts
• Gallery360, showcasing original art
• Trips to Ireland
• Bar offering Irish beer and whiskey and locally produced brews and spirits
• Artisan food bar
• Four performance and event spaces in varying sizes, the largest holding 500 people
• Concerts, theater, mixers, classes, workshops and private events
• Recording studio run in the basement by a partnering company