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What is a pop-up store?
By Connor Sites-Bowen
Pop-up retail projects emerged as a trend in the USA around 2003-2004, and have gained steam since then.
The idea, at its most basic, is that commerce occurs, at a temporary (but fixed) location, for a temporary amount of time (a day, a week, a month).
Civilization has had temporary stores since ancient times, in the form of bazaars, markets, and other short term events. It is how we have done business for a long, long time. In fact, the word retail, to mean "sale in small quantities," and referring to permanently housed specialty stores, was first recorded in 1433, only a few centuries ago.
Markets and market days (specific days of the week that a market was open for business) were a key way by which goods could be traded. For most of history, goods for sale were perishable and produced by hand. Market days allowed farmers and craftspeople for a large area to produce goods during most of the week, and then sell them at a central location on a single day.
The rise of the retail model (that is, stores that sold specific kinds of goods, and were open the whole week) only emerged when human settlement allowed for a large enough demand to meet that kind of supply. Fundamentally, one only sees speciality shops in places of great human density: cities.
A pop-up store maintains the characteristic of being inherently specialized. Many of them only represent a single brand, such as the Comme des Garcons: Black store in New York City, which only markets a particular lower-cost line of Comme des Garconsclothing.
Where pop-ups differ from specialty stores is in their temporary nature. Because they are only around for a month or less, they tend to have low overhead as compared to a long term store. The space might be rent-free, the staff may volunteer, and because they are a new and novel thing, and a limited, exclusive event, the amount of attention and activity they attract is usually vastly higher than a long-term retail counterpart.
Pop-up stores have taken off since 2008, when the recession set in. Many building owners, neighborhood groups, and cities (Pittsburgh included) see them as a way to fill, in the very short term, vacant spaces that other businesses have abandoned (due to collapse or downsizing). They are a way to keep a business district well-trafficked despite a lack of permanent tenants. As such, many of them pay no-or-low rent during their time in the space.
Connor Sites-Bowen is the founder of Clowder & Pack in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.