Last summer, the Lucy Parsons Center left its longtime home in the South End for Jamaica Plain, vacating a large, worn storefront whose landlord began searching for another radical, social-justice-minded organization to occupy it. He found it in a group of six young professionals looking for a place to start a cooperative. In August, the settlers put out a call for others interested in joining an "alternative, community-based work environment for creative people across many disciplines." By the time of its grand-opening party in late September, the group had 12 members, and a name: 549 Columbus, after its street address.

By December, 549 Columbus had devised a rough draft of a mission statement, and decided how to make decisions: big choices need 100 percent approval, smaller ones a 75 percent consensus.

"We're still trying to figure out our communication, but it's working pretty well," says Nerissa Cooney, one of the founding members.

The main point of coordination: fundraisers and meetings. Nearly everyone at 549 Columbus is involved in social-justice causes, ranging from Feast Mass to the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives to Common Boston to the Boston Cyclist's Union to Queer Women of Color and Friends.

"Most people here work with or for various nonprofits, social-justice initiatives, activist groups," says Ben Mauer, a Web designer for the consulting, graphic-design, and Web-development cooperative Quilted. "And we want to open the space up to work with different networks."

Cooney and fellow founder Alexander Hage run the graphic-design business Golden Arrow, which works mostly with nonprofits, and are deeply involved with the microfunding organization Feast Mass. Before they set up shop at 549 Colombus, they were loosely affiliated with the Jamaica Plain coworking space Ad Hoc.

"It's important to us to hear everybody's voice," says Hage. "Everyone has equal decision-making power here and equal ownership."

"Everyone has an opportunity to shape the space," Cooney adds.

But first they have to remodel.

"When we moved in here, there was a gray industrial carpet coated in dust, under which was a carpet pad, under which was linoleum tiles, under which, in some places, was more linoleum tiles, and then plywood that was nailed to the ground in the most horrible way, and underneath that was the original hardwood floor," Hage explains. Last month, they painted that floor a fetching green.

"The building is 150 years old. It's like an excavation," Hage says.

One thing they won't change is the large storefront windows.

"People stop in here all the time and ask us what we're doing," says Cooney. "It's great!"

Eugenia Williamson can be reached at

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