posted on August 17, 2010 12:00
By Dace Koenigsknecht
Economic Restructuring Specialist
Michigan Main Street Center
Michigan State Housing Development Authority
There seems to be a renewed buzz over the past year regarding pop-up stores. The Great Recession has offered few positive, exciting things in the marketplace, but the media is awash in pop-up stories. They provide consumers and landlords with options that were not previously present, and they generate activity on the street and at the cash registers.
They’re the modern-day equivalent of the traveling salesmen of the Old West, bringing their wares to a new location for a ‘limited time only’. Should the consumer balk, they may just miss the opportunity – and have to listen to the neighbors brag about it until the next wagon pulls into town.
What do they do for downtown?
Pop-up stores fill a void in the pedestrian streetscape, that invisible barrier that silently encourages walkers to turn-around. Like parking lots that break up the rhythm and flow along the sidewalk, so can an abandoned or under-utilized commercial space – what we often refer to as the missing tooth syndrome. A pop-up store offers an incentive to continue walking by occupying a space with a lively business.
Pop-up stores provide income to an otherwise deprived landlord. The occupied space generates value, no matter how meager it may appear. It also allows the landlord to continue to market the property (both for lease and for sale) without tying up the space for any lengthy time. Prospective long-term tenants (who may start as that pop-up store) will know that the space will be available in short order.
In addition, an active space generates foot traffic and maintains upkeep. The space can show itself off as functional and flexible, rather than merely a hollow shell. The space will also remain clean and maintained, rather than becoming storage space for side projects or future ambitions. Empty cardboard boxes don’t pay rent, and that pile of plaster debris may actually be costing the landlord prospective tenants.
Everyone likes a good party, and nothing attracts the crowds like a store opening – especially when that store is not going to be there very long. Consumers are bombarded daily with ads of sales and new merchandise, and the result is apathy at best. They are a fickle bunch that will shop the new store on their time, if the perceived value of the merchandise is high enough to eventually become motivation enough to stop in. The short span of the attraction – the pop-up store – generates buzz and urgency through its limited time availability. Consumers are coaxed from their apathetic state into one of drive and purpose.
The increase in people visiting downtown generates a buzz and word-of-mouth campaign – not only about the pop-up store but the downtown in general. Main Street is about positioning downtown to take advantage of these situations, and people are attracted to a winner. If your downtown is ‘creative’ enough, or ‘vibrant’ enough, or whatever enough to attract this pop-up store, then something great is happening there – and people will naturally want to be involved. That includes the ‘locals’ too, that will be spreading the word to their friends about how Main Street has changed downtown and created an environment where another business (no matter how short a time it may be there) is open and drawing people in.
The conclusion here is that far more Main Street communities should be embracing the pop-up store concept. It would fit in both large and small communities, especially those that play any role as a regional hub. Real estate, in most cases, is moving slower than molasses in January, so under-utilized space is plentiful – and more affordable than in many years. Property owners and landlords need to set aside, just for a few months, the notion that the next big thing will be falling from the sky and want their space for premium rents. Show off the space as useful, flexible, profitable, and … lively – it will be the best advertising investment they could make. The entire community will benefit as a result.