The Popup and the Neighborhood: Revitalization through Short-Term Retail

Popups are in, especially this time of year. During the holiday shopping season (and the sale season immediately after), retailers are eager to book small popups to offer their customers variety. Small, unknown retailers without a big-name presence have the chance to really impact customers and test their market.

But popups aren’t just for the holidays. In towns across the nation with large swaths of empty retail space in their downtown areas, cities and small business owners have been discovering the benefits of brick and mortar through holiday popups. In South Bend, IN, the city sponsored local retailers to host holiday popups in vacant downtown retail space, and many of them now want to stay. “We’re making enough money to sustain ourselves without [the city’s] help, which is really nice,” Diana Palomo, co-owner of Pigeon and the Hen Pottery, told a local reporter. “Two weeks before Christmas, things really started flying off the shelves. Even a week before Christmas.”

That’s good news for downtown areas that have been blighted in recent years by foreclosure crises and the decline of city centers in the post-industrial landscape. The humble popup shop can do wonders to revitalize areas that are still on the edge economically, where long-term tenants are hesitant to commit. This is true all over the world: popups are harbingers of greater things. Check out Sydney, Australia, where holiday shops have ignited a “retail renaissance.” Sarah Whyte reports: “Walking down Oxford Street in Paddington less than two years ago was a painful experience for any avid shopper, with ‘for lease’ signs and graffiti dominating the once high-end shopping precinct. But the luxury boutiques, including Camilla and Willow, have been quietly re-entering Paddington. And the catalyst has been pop-up shops along with the cheap rental that comes with them.”

Urban Blight in Philadelphia

Landlords who open up to the idea of short-term retail aren’t just helping themselves toward an eventual long-term tenant, they’re also contributing to the revitalization of blighted neighborhoods. Vacant land in so-called “legacy cities,” where industry once boomed but now the economy struggles along, is a huge problem in America. Just take a look at Possible City‘s map of vacant property in Philadelphia. This city alone has about 40,000 vacant spaces. Imagine if there were an easy way for city land banks (and landlords who want to contribute to the thriving of neighborhoods) to bring small businesses into these spaces for the short term. The movement could jumpstart the revitalization of the whole area. And it benefits the landlords, too: as Kendra Brill told us earlier this week, landlords who accept a temporary tenant at a reduced rate are more likely to find a permanent one paying market rate.

Philly’s not the only city where this transformation is happening. Take a look at Detroit, for instance: a city with a well-known problem of vacant and abandoned space. Various new and creative efforts, including a land bank and a popup initiative, are contributing to revitalization efforts.

ShareMySpace provides an easy, accessible platform for designers, artists, and small business owners to find and book a vacant space. If you’re not familiar, check us out! Next week we’ll be talking to more Philadelphia designers and retailers about their experiences with popup and temporary locations…stay tuned.


Header photo credit: kevin dooley / / CC BY