Brianna Wronko has an engineering degree from an Ivy League school and is the CEO of a health-care diagnostics company. Until this week, she never thought she’d be stuck holding business meetings in a San Francisco hotel bathroom.
But with every restaurant, lobby, public park and cafe withing walking distance of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference’s headquarters packed by thousands of attendees, meeting space was at a premium. One hotel restaurant was charging a $300 an hour to sit at a bare wooden table. At the Westin St. Francis hotel, which hosts the investor meeting, the women’s bathroom didn’t have drink service, but it did have several marble vanities and plush leather chairs.
“It’s quiet in here,’’ said Wronko, who founded and runs the startup Group K Diagnostics. That is, aside from all the flushing.
The ladies bathroom became so popular a workspace, in fact, that there was a wait for me to get a seat and file my notes. And unlike the world outside the bathroom door, where it’s every woman for herself, inside there was a more pleasant, communal spirit.
“There are seats in here. I can’t be standing all day like the guys do,’’ said Tanya Shnaydman, the director of corporate communications at Santen Pharmaceutical Co., barefoot and holding a pair of stilettos in her hand.
With more than 10,000 attendees packing the city, and many more unofficial visitors flocking to meetings and satellite gatherings around the health investing event, the women’s loo wasn’t the only unusual spot for getting work done. Some people took their meetings in the public square across from the Westin. But that came with its own hazards – a local man enjoying the weather in an aviator hat, and absolutely nothing else.
Meeting at the Dentist
A crowd is part of the appeal for events like JPMorgan’s health gathering, or the CES electronics showcase in Las Vegas. People go because everyone else is there.
But few are so overrun that a company has to hold meetings in a borrowed dentist’s office. Invitae Corp., a genetic-information firm, did exactly that – using the event-space marketplace Peerspace Inc. to rent the personal office of Vadim Skorupko, of Smile Delight Dental Solutions. It came with a drum kit and cow hide-covered credenza.
San Francisco has a reputation for high prices and scant space. A lack of new housing plus a growing urban population has driven up the price of real estate, as has an influx of money from the tech industry as Silicon Valley companies have gravitated north. This summer, the federal government classified a family of four earning up to $117,400 as low-income in three counties of the Bay Area, including San Francisco, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Add thousands of visitors, and those already tight quarters gets even tighter.
“It’s definitely one of the busiest weeks of the year,” said Lysa Lewin, senior vice president of convention sales at San Francisco Travel, the city’s visitors bureau. Much of the crowding comes from companies buying out huge blocks of hotel rooms to entertain and hold meetings, she said.
The Last Free Table
The Macy’s store across the square from the Westin has become a popular spot for conference attendees. It has several restaurants, a Starbucks tucked next to the women’s clothing section, and ample furniture for sale – and for meetings – on the seventh floor.
“We meet almost everyone at Macy’s,’’ said Heather Ettinger, a lawyer. Elsewhere, you take your chances. “This year, I had a meeting literally outside in the rain because we couldn’t find anywhere to sit.”
Unfortunately, the department store is getting too popular – the tables were packed from morning to close.
Anthony Piscopio, the CEO of OnKure Therapeutics, made the cafe in the store his home base during JPM, hosting five or six meetings here every day. Its proximity to the Westin is ideal, he said, and he’s been coming for years.
“It used to be a secret, but now everyone knows about it,’’ Piscopio lamented, sitting amid racks of deeply discounted Ivanka Trump and I.N.C. peacoats. He makes sure to get to Macy’s right it opens at 10 a.m. to get a seat.
“After that,” he said, “there is no guarantee.”
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.