Several months ago, when the weather was still gray, dreary and frigid, I came across a Facebook posting about something called Gearhead Workspace. The concept was simple, a full service automotive shop you can rent space in, to work on your car. I looked longingly into my own garage where my 28 year old RX-7 sat, ever in need of some kind of work, and thought, “if only it was warm in there, and I didn’t have to work on the cold concrete floor”. I can hear the chorus of cries shouting “toughen up, this is Chicago, deal with the cold!” I get it, I have done my fair share of sub-zero wrenching, and well…it really sucks! The reality is, not everyone has access to even a simple one-car garage, much less a heated one, in a city as large and dense as Chicago. There are those who make due with a simple parking spot in an open concrete parking structure, not great. Some have to borrow a friend’s garage, lugging around all the needed tools, and sometimes traveling great distance to do so…headaches. Others pay for rented garage space, which ends up little more than a roof over your head, falling well short of a full service shop with hydraulic lifts. Let’s be real, most automotive tasks are just easier with a lift, and some are not really feasible without one. The idea of having such a complete shop at your disposal, lifts and all, intrigued me, so I decided to reach out and see about getting a tour.
After a few emails to Gearhead Workspace, we settled on a good time for me to take a tour. Early on a Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, before the shop began filling with customers, I finally had the opportunity to take a few photos and chat with the owners of this new venture. The folks behind Gearhead Workspace are Molly Heyen, Tim Heyen and Mike Noll. Molly is officially the “Boss Lady”, handling the advertising and marketing aspects of the ‘Workspace. She is likely your first point of contact and one that is friendly, accommodating and eager to answer any questions. Tim the “Chief Enthusiast”, is the finance, IT guy, and the business mind behind Gearhead Workspace that ensures the gears keep turning. Mike, as “Shop Commander” has many years of professional experience and even running his own shops, and acts as Gearhead Workspace’s shop foreman and instructor. Mike is there to teach, lend guidance, and generally make sure no one hurts themselves or burns the shop down. All three are automotive enthusiasts and have spent time wrenching on their own cars. They also have lived/grown up in places where space was not so limited, and had the luxury of spacious garage access. So when they began living in Chicago, in the burgeoning South Loop, they were sorely missing that experience. Tim and Molly embarked on this mission two years ago; to fill their own need for a garage/workspace, and help others in Chicago who were missing it as well. They eventually teamed up with Mike, who would bring the added dimension of formal automotive expertise into the mix. Their vision is to create a shop that goes beyond the typical garage: a place where folks who love wrenching on cars can complete their own projects, experienced wrenches can bring side work, inexperienced wrenches can learn, and enthusiasts in general can gather and have fun. That vision came to fruition finally this May, as the Gearhead Workspace officially opened for business.
The concept is not a new one, there have been several DIY shops to pop up around the country, but this is the first in Chicago. As mentioned previously, the space caters to the automotive enthusiast DIYers who want an awesome space to work in, or may live in neighborhoods where space is at a premium and lack garages of their own. The South Loop in particular is one such area, and it is prime location for Gearhead Workspace, located in the Bridgeport neighborhood just west of the Dan Ryan. It can be accessed from the South Loop in as little as ten minutes (traffic willing), and even from the farthest north reaches of the city in less than thirty minutes (again traffic willing). Once on location, you are greeted by a spacious shop with a handful of two-post lifts on one side and plenty of flat space on the other. A large greenhouse-like skylight provides fantastic lighting conditions, bolstering the plentiful overhead lights. Each work station has a wall adorned with a large selection of the most typically needed hand tools, access to air and air tools, a large work table including a vise, and a portable upright drain for any oil changes needed. The added sizzle, each work station also includes a computer connected to a large flat screen mounted high on the wall. This makes it possible to look up specs, diagrams or even YouTube videos pertinent to whatever task at hand, and be able to see it from where you are working. I’d love that in my own garage! Other equipment like floor jacks, strut compressors and engine hoists are there as well, with plans to expand further. Everything mentioned is new, clean, and kept orderly, making it an ideal place to work.
So with Gearhead Workspace, you have at your disposal all the amenities of a full service commercial shop. The space likely surpasses most at-home mechanics’ garage, and it is a pleasant and tidy place to be. Another important component of what Tim, Molly and Mike envision, is a place where the typical DIYer could have access to guidance beyond just YouTube tutorials and cobbled together, oil stained print-outs of service manual PDF’s. Sometimes that stuff just isn’t enough, this is where Mike’s vast experience in automotive and even motorcycle service is a factor, his guidance could prove invaluable to wrencher’s of all ability levels. His services are available on site as needed, but they also plan to hold clinics frequently teaching the in’s and out’s of different automotive tasks.
Ultimately, you get the sense that the Gearhead crew want to provide more than just a garage but a sense of community. There is a lounge area and plans for fun events for membership that might include meets, cruises, etc. giving the Workspace a country club element without the stuffiness. It is a fun, friendly team behind the project and after a good conversation with the trio and some laughs, I could sense they are genuine car people as well. It is clear the people behind Gearhead Workspace want to nurture and enrich the enthusiast community of Chicago and become a corner stone of it. I highly recommend checking out Gearhead Workspace, and giving them a call for an incredible space to knock out your next project, or even just a routine brake job. Happy wrenching Gearheads!
– photos and writing: Robert Sixto