Because his childhood was divided between small-town Kentucky and very small-town Missouri, Scott Tillitt — the founder of Beahive, a co-working space with locations in Beacon, Cold Spring, Newburgh and Albany — says he has always been drawn to “culture.” He thinks it might be that “immigrants often have a sharper awareness of the places they wind up in.”
He began his career pursuing fashion, studying apparel merchandising and marketing at the University of Missouri. “That somewhat explains how I ended up on live TV in London selling amber jewelry and eel-skin purses to European consumers,” he says.
He sketches the trajectory. One summer, he took part in a management leadership program at Gap Inc. headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois. He then landed a job in western Pennsylvania with the QVC home shopping network, which at that time only had a few vendors who sold their goods directly.
Honolulu Puka Shell Exchange became one of them. The retailer was expanding nationally and adding eel-skin wallets to its brand.
“I wanted to update the brand and so I worked with QVC to redesign it, with new packaging,” Tillitt recalls. “I brought an outsider’s perspective.”
QVC partnered with a British telecommunications company, and that’s how Tillitt was beamed into the U.K.
“I had Armani frames with non-corrective lenses and thought I was so cool,” he says. “It was quite an experience for a small-town boy. But at some point, I tapped out on what I could do. I set my eyes on bigger things.”
Tillitt moved to New York City, portfolio in hand, and landed a job at the Television Bureau of Advertising, a trade association, followed by two positions in public relations. He lost his job during the dot.com recession, but after he wrote an essay about his experience for Photo District News the magazine hired him as a writer.
In the late 1990s, Tillitt began exploring what he calls “consciousness culture” and founded a meditation practice. He wanted to do something more meaningful.
A turning point came in 2003, when the Dalai Lama visited New York City.
“I read in Stuart Elliott’s advertising column in The New York Times about an ad campaign associated with the visit being run by Josh Baran,” Tillitt recalls. “There was something about the Dalai Lama’s image — robes and flip-flops against a plain background — that got me.”
Tillitt offered to provide free public relations services and ended up working closely with Baran and the Dalai Lama. “I handled 500 media requests just for that week, plus a news conference at the Guggenheim and a Lincoln Center concert,” he says. “Then 60,000 people came to see him in Central Park — huge.
“That was my foray into doing progressive stuff. I subsequently worked on dozens of projects over the years with Josh. He was well known in the progressive PR world for leveraging culture to bring in issues. I worked on documentaries and books, as well. It was a link between my prior corporate career and my social-impact work.”
In 2004, Tillett founded Antidote Collective, a consulting firm that focused on “vision plus mission.” Two years later, he moved to Beacon, which his then-wife had discovered.
“I was becoming a little antsy and slightly disillusioned with the progressive world, and with my results,” he says. “I was getting people to buy books, etc., but wasn’t certain what the message was. Nothing stopped the world, even if it changed a few minds. I wanted something more engaged. Beahive was meant to be a platform for community engagement.”
The Beacon location was the first to open, in 2009. It was followed soon after by Kingston (since closed), Albany in 2012 and Newburgh in 2021. A Cold Spring annex with private offices opened this year.
“Co-working used to be a movement, now it’s a sector,” he says. “It started as a way for people who generally worked freelance or independently to come together. But the pandemic made this crystal clear: Co-working’s most important benefit became more than productivity. Loneliness is an epidemic. It affects people, work, everything about society, particularly in Western spaces.”