SYN Shop, Las Vegas’ first open-membership hackerspace, has been active in its downtown 4th Street location for nearly a year. Led by Brian Munroe and a small group of dedicated volunteers, SYN Shop transitioned from a handful of tinkerers gathering monthly in a garage to an much larger number of tinkerers meeting at all hours in a sidewalk-facing space just outside the cacophony and glow of the Fremont Street Experience.
I recently met with Brian for an update.
Chris: SYN Shop is nestled just a block away from the Fremont Street Experience. Has downtown treated you well? How has the neighborhood changed since first opening your doors?
Brian: I remember when we first took over the space, once you turned off the Fremont Street Experience and started heading north on 4th, the street really took on a kind of creepy feel to it. There were hardly any tourists around and lots of dark shadows. I remember walking to SYN Shop with the CEO from 3rd Ward, a creative space in Brooklyn, and even he noticed that things got a bit “different” once we turned off of the main drag.
Now days, with the opening of The Grand, The Gold Spike and Nacho Daddy, this area definitely feels safer and less lonely. Plenty of people walking by which really makes a huge difference. We get so much foot traffic from people just curious to find out what the heck SYN Shop really is.
In what ways has the arrival of Zappos and the growth of the downtown tech scene impacted SYN Shop?
The move has definitely helped our membership. I can think of a few people who moved into some of the surrounding high rises, but still would like to tinker as if they had a garage. SYN Shop gives them that ability, plus it is easy access for them since it is no more then a 5-10 minute walk.
Do new members tend to be downtown residents, or are they coming from all over the valley?
Members typically come from all over the valley. I figured we would get some downtowners, but most are suburbanites who drive at least a few miles to get to the Shop.
Any new gear acquisitions recently? Are you still soliciting hardware donations, or is the hackerspace pretty much outfitted at this point?
3D printing is really hot right now! We started off with a single Makerbot Replicator 2, but it was being used so much we ended up buying two additional 3D printers. We have some rockstar 3D printer operators in our community and they do their best to keep them running and teach members the correct way to use the machines, from the software choices to the best way to post process the finish on a 3D print.
Classes on subjects such as soldering, basic electronics, and robotics have been held throughout the year. Are classes bringing in new members, or do attendees tend to be current members brushing up on skills?
Most of the people who take our classes don’t usually become members, but a lot of times they know someone who would be a perfect fit for SYN Shop, so they send them our way. Class attendance has been really good, usually when we offer a class it is filled almost immediately. We use Meetup.com as our scheduling system, so we get a pretty good network effect in doing so. Another amazing thing is that a lot of members are willing to teach classes on a wide variety of subjects, so we end up with a nice selection of classes being offered.
What kind of projects are members working on these days?
A whole broad range really. Lots of wood working projects. People are really interested in learning to use the Shopbot, our large format CNC router. All kinds of furniture: tables, desks, cabinets, etc have been designed and built using that machine. We also recently discovered a site called OpenDesk that shares the cut files from some pretty nice looking contemporary furniture. In a nutshell, you download the plans and then cut it out on the Shopbot. If you improve on the design, or come up with your own, you can share your modifications and everyone else can benefit. It is a great ecosystem that is kind of unique to a craft like woodworking.
We are of course doing plenty of electronics projects as well. We picked up a vending machine that a few members have been modifying to tie into our membership system. The goal is to stock the machine with items that you might need while working in the shop (little electronic components, machine bits, microprocessors, etc) and members can purchase these items without having to pump a bunch of quarters into the machine, it is just added onto your monthly membership fee.
SYN Shop has participated in area events ranging from First Friday to the Las Vegas Science Festival. What kind of role do you see the space playing in the local community?
We definitely want to have another Mini-MakerFaire. That was a lot of fun and it really showed us that there are actually a lot of DIY / Makers in town that we never knew existed. We also want to hold a lot more classes!
What can folks expect to see from SYN Shop in 2014?
The first year we were just trying to build out the space and figure out the best way to manage it. I think we’ve figured that out for the most part, so now we can focus on making some really awesome offerings for Las Vegas.
CHRIS AINSWORTH is a native Las Vegan and a tech dilettante. Find him on Twitter (@driph) or at driph.com.