Encouraging “Pop Up” Stores

Have you ever walked by an empty store front in your community and imagined what could happen inside that space?

It has become something that fills my mind these days. I have so many ideas of what I want to do in those spaces, but having no retail or business experience, I feel intimidated.

That’s why I have been researching “pop up” stores, which are initiatives that take place in empty store fronts, but are not necessarily part of a super long-term lease. If the store is successful, and the terms are agreeable, they certainly can become long-term. But what’s nice about pop-up initiatives is that people understand this is an experiment – and that will impact everyone’s expectations. Of course, every business is an experiment, but when you tell your landlord and your customers about  how you are approaching things, it might change how they evaluate your decor or your marketing approach.

Support the miLES Kickstarter Campaign

I just supported a Kickstarter campaign for an architect who is looking to encourage pop-up stores. He has designed a pretty nifty prototype of a flexible in-store display that can become retail display, a stage for theater, tables for classes etc. Can you imagine if every store transformed for these various usages?

The campaign is called Made in the Lower East Side or miLES. Having just visited the Highline in New York last month, I can tell you there are so many incredibly beautiful empty spaces there with brick walls and huge front windows. We need to bring this same energy where I live in northern Virginia.

The Highline trail is above but many empty storefronts are below

The Highline trail is above but many empty storefronts are below

I keep trying to combine my dream of starting a creative re-use center and this pop-up store concept. I think I’ll get there. Just yesterday I saw where Upcycle in Alexandria took a space that is not ideal (up two flights of stairs) but they are going for it.

Upcycle Creative Reuse Center in Alexandria, Virginia

Upcycle Creative Reuse Center in Alexandria, Virginia


A few weeks ago, I attended a webinar about Popuphood, an organization in Oakland who has this down to a science. In the webinar, Sarah Filley described how they are standing up small businesses one by one, revitalizing Oakland block by block. The businesses can get going because they work together, sharing resources like wireless or book-keeping or marketing expertise.

I have mixed feelings about starting a creative re-use center with a partner, let alone starting it with a bunch of other businesses. That’s why having a neutral party like Popuphood who can lend expertise and experience would be so helpful.

Companies like ZipCar allow you to access a car when you need it. Now we need companies to make storefronts available when you need them.

Brooklyn Craft Company and Empire Drive-In

I have been drooling over initiatives in Brooklyn that take empty spaces and make them into spaces filled with creativity. One is the Brooklyn Craft Company, which started as a day-long craft event, but is now becoming a permanent collaborative space for crafters. That just needs to happen here.

Another Brooklyn initiative involved building a drive-in movie theater made from wrecked cars called the Empire Drive-In. The video about it is fascinating, showing the people preparing the space. I don’t even watch many movies but I would love to see this place. People sit in and on the cars while watching the movies.

Brookland Artists

Not far from ScrapDC in the Brookland area of Washington DC, there is a new area being developed right by the Brookland Metro called the Munroe Street Market. We took a walk there and found a bunch of artists who had just set up shop, or who were painting their new spaces.

Munroe Street Market by Brookland Metro Station in Washington DC

Munroe Street Market by Brookland Metro Station in Washington DC

I talked with one of the new store owners, who had just opened a shop called Analog. It features vintage clothing and paper items, along with other handmade items.  The shop owner said the developers wanted to have local artists in these beautiful, high-ceilinged studios, so they gave excellent rental rates. People who had only ever sold their art at craft shows could now afford a permanent studio space in a sweet location.

Trash Art at the Munroe Street Market by Brookland Metro Station in Washington DC

Trash Art at the Munroe Street Market by Brookland Metro Station in Washington DC

Not far away is Dance Place, an amazing dance studio, and they had a space where they were teaching kids how to make trash art, like these masks from laundry soap containers.

Get the latest news on the Munroe Street Markets on Facebook.


My brain wants to think about our spaces differently. I want to have things in my community that people yearn to visit. I want creative people to be drawn here. I want to have a constant swirl around me of Trashmagination goodness – re-use, new ideas, fun times for people of all ages.

Yeah, that’s what I want.

A Few Resources

On Facebook, I got a nice shout-out from Pop-up Republic for this post – so check them out!

Also, they have a great Pinterest of Pop-up Examples.

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