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Pop-Up New York: The Retail Trend That’s Defying the Recession

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Pop-up New York: Outdoor MarketsAs a teenager in Europe, I would often frequent the outdoors markets on the weekends. Usually, I accompanied my mother or aunt and I always looked forward to it. I would save as much as my pocket money as possible just for this weekend ritual; that strangely ended in someone in our group buying meat or a new coat. One weekend I remember walking right by a stall where a rather rotund gentleman was hollering out to the masses:

“Ladies, gentleman and children…limited edition, personal CD players…state of the art model…discounted price…buy now or miss out.”

I was like a moth to a flame as I moved closer to his display of shining, multicolored, CD players. I looked over to my mother who demanded:

“How much?”

“Fifteen pounds.”

He then went on to give us reasons why were stupid not to purchase one, but, I was already. I looked at my mother again”

“It’s your money.”

That it was. I handed over most of my cash in return for a green, transparent, personal CD player. As soon as I got home I pulled out my favorite CD of the moment, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, I put in the batteries and pressed play. Nothing. I took it to my mother who could just not get the thing to work. She gave me the bad news. She is known for talking with her hands and as she held my CD player in her gesturing hands it sounded like a toolbox with loose screws on the inside. We returned to the market and the stall was nowhere to be seen. Along with several other infuriated customers we had been scammed and our money was gone without a trace.

It was in 2007 when I heard the term ‘pop-up store’ several times and all it conjured up was the CD player that never was seven years earlier. The idea of a short-term, temporary store really didn’t seem like an option for me. But then, the economy crashed and I began to look for ways to maintain my somewhat comfortable lifestyle without going broke. As more and more of these ‘pop-up stores’ creeped out of the woodwork, I saw that they weren’t doing the maverick salesman, going from town to town with crooked deals. Instead, these pop-up stores for the most part were well-established retailers offering consumers more options and struggling companies a way through the recession.

For many retailers, a well-founded fear grew as consumer spending decreased along with their wealth. Now shoppers were investing instead of buying, this was the bleak shadow that forced many retailers to close its doors after lagging sales, high leases, and loan refusals. Those who could just about make it through the recession had to re-establish consumer confidence in its brand and provide shoppers with seemingly logical reasons as to why they needed to buy more with less.

Essentially, we are buying into something that may be exclusive, perhaps even something that is both high end and reduced in price. These deals can only be found in the pop-up stores. This framework re-negotiates what a consumer decides to spend its precious pennies on as well as engineering shopping behaviors. Brands are re-introduced and they aim to engage and interact with shoppers. These stores may open their doors for a few hours or a year, but, there is always an end date. Many have even made use of the vacant spaces left on the high street by retailers who were unable to weather the storm. The beauty of the pop-up is that owners aren’t tied down by long-term leases, they provide the much needed employment and they are almost certain to be successful. They outsmart an economy where consumers are forced to spend wisely.

Moreover, there is a big difference between the retail cowboys I encountered as a kid and retail giants. Large, well-established brands such as Target have made use of the pop-up store. A success story is that of GAP who took their pop-up store around the globe. They reinforced their brand identity and sold only jeans and played sixties rock music on tour buses. This harkened back to the stores origins when it was just a small unit in San Francisco selling denim and records. The spontaneity of the pop-up store creates a buzz and induces anticipation and shoppers are hooked on seeking out the next event–if anything brand loyalty augments.

An Indoor Pop-Up Park, Openhouse GalleryNowadays, we have the added benefit of social media where information can be diffused at an alarming rate. The pop-up store concept is happening in all major cities around the world and its serving retailers almost as an economic recession loophole. The brands are able to get consumers excited and this relative emotion remains in our memory more so than the things we buy, or need to buy, and dictates our desire to shop. “There’s a certain passion about things that shout ‘act now!’ and that has transpired into the way we shop too,” said fashion publicist and co-founder of Think PR, Claudine Gumbel.

These events also provide more than confidence–they bring in revenue. Costs are low to set up and returns are high. They are more lucrative than they aren’t. “They’re making a short term investment for what could be a long term gain” affirms the head of retail leasing at Ellman Prudential, Faith Hope Consolo. Beyond fashion retail the pop-up store trend has seeped into other areas of the retail industry. Restaurant, bar owners and gallerists have too bought into the appropriated hype.

Popping-Up this week:

Fatty Johnson’s
50 Carmine Street, West Village, NY

Quirky restaurant expert, Zac Pelaccio, has put together a very offbeat, informal eating and dining experience. The bartenders are slacking and they know it, in fact they may ask you to assist them make yo drinks or serve others. The gimmick is in not only the untrained barman but in the unique and brave menu. The food is not for the faint-hearted or the swine fearing. There is pork in every dish. (The schmaltz pork broth–I think I’m gonna have to repent for enjoying that.) Go as soon as you can as there are no indicators as to when this craziness ends.

An Indoor Pop-Up Park, Openhouse Gallery
201 Mulberry Street, SoHo, NY

Make up for the what feels like the dawn of a new ice age and picnic in the city. The floor is covered in faux grass, there’s a pond, fallen leaves, birds singing and a rockery. The walls are covered in park-themed art work. If that’s not enough, take part in a daily yoga class, play some bocce ball or croquet. Don’t feel like being active? Try and catch a movie screening. This free entry kitsch affair ends January 30th, you still have time for this one.

–Nikkita Flavius-Gottschalk is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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