The Real Deal New York

The new pop-up shop: They don’t sell anything

November 30, 2011
By Yasmeen Qureshi


A pop-up in Tribeca that pairs lingerie designer The Lake & Stars with architecture firm SOFTLab, and a PayPal pop-up shop at 174 Hudson Street

Temporary retail stores, known as “pop-ups,” have been quite literally popping up in New York City for several years now, often hawking seasonal items at Halloween and Christmas. But a new breed of pop-ups is emerging, industry insiders say: Non-retail ventures, from PayPal to the TV show “Celebrity Apprentice,” are opening temporary locations on New York’s heavily trafficked streets.

“We are seeing some unusual ones, in addition to [temporary] fashion shops,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Retail Group.

Unlike most pop-up stores, which primarily aim to sell merchandise, these non-retail pop-ups are more focused on publicity and marketing.

“It’s more of a place to come in and interact with the brand,” explained Lindsay Rowe, director of sales and marketing for MKTG INC, which helps create pop-ups for clients like Nike.

Temporary, seasonal stores have existed for years. Perhaps the best-known example is the cosmetics store Ricky’s NYC, which opens around 20 temporary locations in the city each year before Halloween.

But after 2008’s financial crisis, pop-ups became popular with nonseasonal retailers too. Landlords, unable to find full-time tenants, decided to rent to short-term retailers instead, explained Amira Yunis, executive vice president at Newmark Knight Frank Retail.

Recently, pop-ups have grown splashier than ever. Dylan’s Candy Bar, for example, this year is slated to open a 7,000-square-foot holiday pop-up shop on 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue, with a life-size gingerbread house inside.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that websites, magazines and other businesses have started getting in on the action — despite the fact that they are not stores, per se.

A few years ago, for example, Wired Magazine became one of the first non-retail companies to open a pop-up in New York. The store — located this year in Times Square — allows fans of the magazine to stop by and try out the hot new gadgets of the holiday season.

MKTG recently orchestrated a pop-up for CNET.com, the popular tech-review website. The store was open at 201 Mulberry Street for five days last month and featured events, product demonstrations and advice for holiday shopping.

And in October, the online payment service PayPal announced an invitation-only “installation” at 174 Hudson Street in Tribeca. At the site, PayPal gives merchants and media a behind-the-scenes look at its newest products, the company said.

Lisa Rosenthal, director of the retail sales group Lansco, recently leased a space at 155 Fifth Avenue for two days (Oct. 31 and Nov. 1) to the television show “Celebrity Apprentice,” which used it to film an episode for its series. Rosenthal said she was also approached by a book publishing company about a possible pop-up, though the deal never materialized.

While some of these pop-ups, like Wired’s and CNET’s, do offer some items for sale, their main intent is “to create visibility,” Rowe said.

Pop-ups can function as an effective advertising vehicle, said Kelly Gedinsky, an associate director at Winick Realty Group.

“Because of the expense of media advertising, and because paper advertising has become less efficient, it’s possibly become more beneficial to advertise through a storefront,” she said.

With the (slowly) improving economy and more demand from retailers, however, it’s harder this year for pop-ups to find the space they need.

For the third quarter, Cushman & Wakefield found that the retail availability rate, which measures all space currently being marketed, varied by neighborhood, but was largely down across the board. It was 6.5 percent in Soho (down 1.6 percent from the second quarter), 5.1 percent for Times Square (down 2.3 percent) and 11.1 percent on Madison Avenue (down 1.7 percent).

“Now you are starting to see [pop-ups] go down in numbers, as the spaces are starting to get leased,” Yunis said.

That’s especially true because pop-ups are focused on high-visibility areas like Soho or Midtown, according to Rosenthal.

The non-profit arts organization Boffo gets around that problem by placing pop-ups outside the city’s top shopping destinations. The project, called Boffo Building Fashion, pairs up-and-coming clothing designers with architects, who then work together to create temporary “installations” in vacant storefronts in West Chelsea and Tribeca. For these pop-ups, which aim to promote both the designer and the architect, the landlords donate the space, with the expectation that the publicity could help draw more shoppers to the neighborhood.

In September, Boffo orchestrated a pop-up featuring Nicola Formichetti, a designer who frequently works with Lady Gaga, and Gage/Clemenceau Architects. The highly publicized display had a futuristic theme, with shifting robotic mirrors on the ceilings and walls. Last month, Boffo debuted a pop-up for lingerie designer the Lake & Stars and architecture firm SOFTLab. Located at 57 Walker Street in Tribeca, the display’s boulder-like exterior allowed shoppers to peer at lingerie through tiny windows akin to kaleidoscopes.

“Really, what they are is a sort of pop-up art installation,” said Faris Al-Shathir, executive director of Boffo Building Fashion. “It’s like a traveling museum.”

Comments are closed.

MENU