Pop-Up Shops: Lessons Learned and How You Can Start One in Your Downtown

Want to better your community but don’t know where to start? Enter It’s the Little Things: a weekly Strong Towns podcast that gives you the wisdom and encouragement you need to take the small yet powerful actions that can make your city or town stronger.

It’s the Little Things features Strong Towns Community Builder Jacob Moses in conversation with various guests who have taken action in their own places and in their own ways.

Here’s a question we often get at Strong Towns: How can I encourage more retail in my downtown? And understandably so. Downtown is most likely your city’s or town’s most safe and economically productive place.

So when we notice that our downtown retail landscape is a little lacking, it’s only natural that we want to do something about it.

One of our favorite ways to incrementally add more retail to your main street and test it out through the power of the humble pop-up shop. If you’re unfamiliar with pop-up shops, let’s use your farmer’s market as an example. Vendors don’t have permanent booths for which they have to sign a 5-year lease or wait for the busy building inspector. Instead, they “pop-up”—maybe once or twice a week, maybe for a few months or even for the entire year—to share and sell their product with the community.

Now think bigger. A pop-up shop could be a great first step for local makers, who usually sell their products online, to test out the idea of a brick and mortar store. It could also work for an entrepreneur who wants to test out a product before they commit to a big production run. Or, as for our friends in Muskegon, Michigan—winner of the 2018 Strongest Town contest—it could be a way of fostering ideas and incrementally growing a downtown.

And the best part? With the help of a few downtown organizations and a handful of merchants, you, too, can create a successful pop-up in your downtown.

In this episode, I chat with Caroline Dobbins-Hurteau, who, with the help of her colleagues at the Albion Reinvestment Corporation (ARC), created a successful holiday pop-up shop in downtown Albion, Michigan.

Their project, which they called the Collective Goods Holiday Retail Pop-Up, was a six-week event where ARC invited online merchants and existing merchants in neighboring towns to set up shop in Downtown Albion.

Caroline dives deep into the ins and outs of how you can create a successful pop-up shop in your downtown, including how to pitch the idea to your downtown organizations, how to find prospective merchants, and—most important—how to make it an incremental yet lasting success for your downtown.

(Top photo via flickr)