Why the pop-up shop scene in Austin is on the rise

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Local small businesses find exposure, success through pop-ups

Catelyn Silapachai began the Fine Goods Pop Up to bring local online vendors together to meet their customers. (via Courtesy Fine Goods Pop Up)

Catelyn Silapachai, founder of the Fine Goods Pop Up, was looking for a way to allow local online vendors of upscale jewelry, clothing and other unique artisan products to meet one another and their loyal customers in one convenient place.

Silapachai, who also owns the online jewelry store The Distillery Market, first conjured the idea of a collective pop-up shop for Austin’s artists in spring 2015.

Austin business owners like Silapachai are finding creative ways to test the retail market and expose their brands in different ways by opening pop-up shops—temporary retail stores located in vacant lots or on brick-and-mortar businesses’ properties.

Partnering with The Paper+Craft Pantry in East Austin to host the event, Silapachai’s multiple one-day Fine Goods Pop Ups have resulted in hundreds of visitors, dozens of satisfied vendors and a chance for the local artisan community to grow.

“The goal [is to create]a fun environment [where]people can hang out and chat with the vendors,” she said, adding the pop-up usually involves free food and drinks provided by local sponsors.

“Going forward, [we have to]figure out new ways to make it affordable and accessible for local artists and retailers to be able to grow their business however they start, [whether it is through]a pop-up location, in the market or in a brick-and-mortar.”
—Molly Alexander, executive vice president of economic development for the Downtown Austin Alliance

But after a successful year of hosting the Fine Goods Pop Up, Silapachai said she feels the idea of a pop-up shop is overdone, and she sees them opening more than ever.

“People have come up to me and said they were inspired and started their own [pop-up shop],” she said.

For Austin business owners such as Mousumi Shaw, a pop-up shop is a way to test the market and see if the products would do well in a retail setting.

She launched pop-up shops of her wholesale jewelry business Sikara in Austin’s Second Street District, San Francisco and Boston in 2009 and has since opened permanent stores in all three locations.

Shaw said she sees the trend of pop-up shops changing because of the high cost and high demand.

“[Pop-up shops] are so popular that [landlords]are charging premiums—a higher rent for a shorter term,” she said.

National companies that began online are also getting behind the pop-up shop trend, which has resulted in the companies opening brick-and-mortars in places like Austin.

Matt Kaness, CEO of online retail company ModCloth, said he realized on his third day at the company that his staff had not had the opportunity to interact with customers directly and get immediate, intimate feedback on the products sold.

Local small businesses find exposure, success through pop-ups

Online clothing store ModCloth opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Austin following a series of pop-up shops around the country. (via Courtesy ModCloth)

A short time later, ModCloth IRL—In Real Life—was born as a series of five pop-up shops in cities across the country, including Austin, that remained open for varying lengths of time and offered small samples of apparel and shoes.

The pop-up shops resulted in more than $1 million in sales and the company’s first permanent store at 200 W. Second St., which opened Nov. 12.

Kaness said the intent of the “fit shop,” as he calls the Second Street space, is to “provide a social shopping experience that is high-touch [and]expert service-based that the local community can use as a resource.”

He said he expects the pop-up trend to continue growing as more real estate is made vacant and more brands are launching digital-first businesses only to realize there is an opportunity to add another dimension to how business owners sell their products.

Pop-up shops are more common in countries such as Japan, where fashion malls host branded stores on a frequent rotating basis or higher-end malls sign new tenants to a one-year lease, Kanness said.

“I believe the store economic model in the U.S. is permanently shifting, and pop-ups are one byproduct of that,” he said.

Local small businesses find exposure, success through pop-ups

Warby Parker opened a brick-and-mortar on South Congress Avenue in 2016 after bringing a pop-up shop in the form of a bus to Austin several years ago. (via JJ Velasquez/Community Impact Newspaper)

Similar to ModCloth, online eyeglass and sunglass retailer Warby Parker began touring the country in a bus transformed into a pop-up shop in 2012. The bus made its way to Austin in 2014, and the company opened the area’s first permanent store on South Congress Avenue in October, adding a second location at Domain Northside shortly after.

And although online businesses have seen success opening permanent locations in Austin, other local businesses are closing the doors of their brick-and-mortars and turning to pop-up shops to sell their goods.

Some retail stores that have recently closed, such as South Congress’ Off the Wall, have hinted at the possibility of opening a pop-up shop in the future.

Nearby clothing and accessories store Parts & Labour is being forced out of its spot at 1117 S. Congress Ave. to make room for a mixed-use development, and although it has found a new home in the spot left vacant by Off the Wall, the move will not happen until March, so owner Lizelle Villapando is planning a monthlong pop-up shop at Sugar Mama’s Bake Shop on South First Street.

Local small businesses find exposure, success through pop-ups

South Congress Avenue’s Parts & Labour is setting up a pop-up at Sugar Mama’s Bake Shop while Parts & Labour prepares to move. (via Marie Albiges/Community Impact Newspaper)

Other pop-up shops, such as the one being planned by South Congress boutique ByGeorge at Saint Cecelia Hotel during this year’s South By Southwest Conferences & Festivals, are a chance for company exposure and brand highlighting.

Pop-ups are even being held alongside food trailers. The Picnic Austin, a food truck park located at 1720 Barton Springs Road, recently launched its retail division featuring five mobile boutiques, including Nina Berenato Jewelry and The Salvage Thrift.

Berenato, who had the idea for the retail division, has previously opened pop-ups around Austin before landing at The Picnic Austin.

“When I found the space at The Picnic Austin, I knew it would create such a great community and shopping experience to have an entire area of retail-focused Airstreams,” she said.

Nina Berenato came up with the idea of 5 mobile retail units at The Picnic Austin food truck park.

Nina Berenato came up with the idea of five mobile retail units at The Picnic Austin food truck park. (via Courtesy The Picnic Austin)

Molly Alexander, executive vice president of economic development for the Downtown Austin Alliance, a stakeholder group that advocates for the welfare of the downtown area, said pop-up shops exist to invoke an unexpected experience in an underutilized space.

About five years ago, the DAA helped change the city’s code to make it easier for businesses to rent vacant spaces for up to 90 days.

Following the code change, the DAA last year piloted the downtown street market, a new retail concept that popped up around Congress Avenue downtown. The street market featured local artists, vendors and food truck owners who did not own brick-and-mortars.

Alexander said the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and vendors told her the customer base was much different on Congress, where they otherwise might not have been able to afford to sell their products in a permanent storefront.

“Going forward, [we have to]figure out new ways to make it affordable and accessible for local artists and retailers to be able to grow their business however they start, [whether it is through]a pop-up location, in the market or in a brick-and-mortar,” she said.

Although the downtown street market is over, Alexander said the DAA is looking at bringing it back in new ways, such as in the form of a night market in the Red River Cultural District. She said she also envisions building a permanent market building downtown where artists can set up shop.

Alexander said she is also working with the Mexic-Arte museum to put together a pop-up mercado, or Spanish-style market, in the downtown area on Saturdays.

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Marie Albiges
Marie Albiges was the editor for the San Marcos, Buda and Kyle edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She covered San Marcos City Council, San Marcos CISD and Hays County Commissioners Court. Marie previously reported for the Central Austin edition. Marie moved to Austin from Williamsburg, Va. in 2016 and was born in France. She has since moved on from Community Impact in May 2018.
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