Will the future of Brookline's small business community look like the pop-up model of retail? The trend is catching on with the debut of the first PopUp Republic Marketplace at 2 Brookline Place, across from the Brookline Village "T" stop.
Pop-ups seem to be everywhere these days. There are pop-up restaurants featuring rotating menus (and chefs) based on customer votes. There's an American Field pop-up shop in Boston selling Made in the USA clothing exclusively for two days in September. There is even a mobile pop-up for Poppin-brand school supplies.
So what's the deal? The term pop-up shop, or short-term retail space, was coined in 2003 by Trendwatching.com with the idea "If new products can come and go, why can't the stores that display them do the same?" The recession produced an abundance of empty retail space in cities across the country. Suddenly affordable rents in desirable areas became a reality for small business owners looking for a shot at expanding their online business, meeting their customers, and getting face-to-face feedback.
Because of the ever-changing nature of pop-ups, they rely on social media to promote their existence and spread the word about the latest vendors and activities. According to Trendwatching.com, "these initiatives have a tendency to pop up unannounced, quickly draw in the crowds, and then disappear or morph into something else, adding to retail the fresh feel, exclusivity and surprise that galleries, theatres and Cirque du Soleil-adepts have been using for years."
A pop-up shop featuring the work of local craftsmen seems a natural outgrowth of Brookline residents' love of local artisans—the success of the annual Coolidge Corner Arts Festival in June is one example of our affinity for handmade products. The town has also seen a proliferation of empty storefronts since the recession hit in 2008. One example was 2 Brookline Place.
"The space was empty, sad-looking," said pop-up shop seller Karin Chin, of Dim Sum Design. "When you're a small business, it's hard to have a physical retail spot. With mom-and-pop businesses becoming a dying breed, pop-ups offer a flexible layout and a greater mix of businesses in a time-shared spot."
Chin's Dim Sum Design, featuring colorful and whimsical yoga bags, totes, and table linens, is one of the more steady retailers at Pop Up Republic. Chin and her fellow artist Anna Koon, owner of a2n2koon, will share the same space until the beginning of November.
"Pop Up Republic's Jeremy and Larry Baras are very good at curating artisans," remarked Chin. "And the public's response has been very positive. They like looking at art rather than another empty, forlorn space."
The temporary nature of a pop-up shop means small businesses aren't locked into long-term leases. In fact, the space itself is often free, apart from incidental expenses. In the case of 2 Brookline Place, the property owners are only charging for liability insurance and utilities. Pop Up Republic gets 20% of the proceeds of artists' sales—not a bad deal considering that if an artist doesn't reach a certain sales goal they don't need to worry about that next rent check looming.
Pop-ups can also be beneficial to the community where they're located. Scott Cipolla of Pop Up Republic said, "The idea for the Brookline Village location came up in April. We asked if we could use this space to help revitalize the area and get people to come down here, especially around the holidays." That increased foot traffic benefits other businesses on the block.
Pop Up Republic is planning a holiday event on Saturday, December 21, featuring a variety of artisans. They're also inviting Boston Handmade to set up in the space starting November 16, right around the time people are starting to think about shopping for gifts.
Other upcoming events include a Museum of Bad Art auction on Wednesday, September 25th at 7PM, with a preview starting at 6:30, and a TBA celebration on First Light 2013, which will be held on Thursday, November 21st from 5-8PM.
--By Jennifer Campaniolo