Susannah Siger had been coming up with ideas for “pop-up” shops for years before the term existed. One temporary store sold candles in a former mall pizzeria. Another sold menorahs.
Now, Siger has transformed a vacant spot at The Mall in Columbia into the place to go for socks. At Socks Appeal, shoppers will find shoes, ponchos and headbands alongside novelty socks with portraits of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“If you’re a retailer who has a lot of creative ideas, you constantly want to try out new things,” said Siger, the owner of Ma Petite Shoe, a shoes and chocolate boutique she has run in Hampden for nearly 18 years. “This is the perfect opportunity. You can try out brands that you’re interested in, and with so much traffic at the mall, you know right away what’s a hit and what’s not."
This holiday season, it seems that small retailers’ short-term concepts are sprouting all over the Baltimore region as they aim to capture their slice of as much as $730.7 billion in spending the National Retail Federation expects for November and December.
Of the more than 165 million people expected in stores between Thanksgiving and Monday, according to the retail trade group, more than 66 million likely will shop Saturday, when “Small Business Saturday” events typically urge consumers to shop local.
For “indy” retailers, pop-ups at the holidays offer a way to test new markets, attract customers and promote existing stores and brands without committing to long-term space or staffing. Landlords like them because they keep centers fresh, help draw traffic and fill gaps left by chains paring down or closing.
The Shops at Kenilworth in Towson has introduced four local pop-up retailers this fall. The Mall in Columbia has brought in six holiday pop-ups, both in mall store space and common areas, and this year launched a weekend-only pop-up program to feature local artisans and entrepreneurs. And shopping center owner Kimco Realty, which runs centers in the Baltimore area, has had success in attracting more unique tenants through a pop-up branding campaign launched in 2018.
“We’ve interjected a lot of flexibility” in temporary leasing, said Barbara A. Nicklas, the Columbia mall’s senior general manager. “It’s all part of the process as the mall has evolved and we’ve been looking at other ways to enhance the customer experience.”
Greenberg Gibbons, landlord of Kenilworth and Hunt Valley Towne Centre, sees pop-ups as incubators for new concepts and possible future tenants. Besides offering temporary leases for several months, Kenilworth also has hosted occasional “posh pop-ups,” where small merchants gather in a space for as briefly as a day or two.
“It’s really giving local retailers an opportunity to validate their concepts, and if they are successful and we like the use, we try to convert them to full-term tenants,” CEO Brian Gibbons said. “And it’s an opportunity during the holidays, not just to fill vacant space, but to add excitement and new offerings for customers.”
Sometimes pop-ups can help spur online sales. Melissa Bona launched web retailer Mint & Major in Baltimore in 2018, marketing a brand focused on women’s clothing, beauty products and jewelry through Instagram and by participating in local pop-up events.
“The more we would do these fun events and pop-ups, the more success we would have online, because we would be able to connect with people, and they felt like they could put a face to the name of the business,” Bona said. “They trusted the product. ... It gave us a lot more credibility.”
[ Six local retailers will rotate through M&T Bank's pop-up shop at the Inner Harbor ]
Running a pop-up in Kenilworth from September through the spring will help Bona determine whether the time is right to pursue a permanent location.
“Retail is so volatile,” said Bona, a former buyer for South Moon Under. “Right now we’re trying to establish ourselves as a brand. ... [At Kenilworth] I’m able to connect with all those existing customers as well as meet new people that have never heard of us."
Pop-ups have turned into an industry of their own, popular with retailers small, large and even web-only, such as Amazon and Zappos shoes.
Though specialty leasing, including short-term, has been around for years, “pop-up is a newer, trendy expression ... and it finally caught fire in terms of an expression and started attracting bigger brands and new concepts,” said Jenny Westbrook, managing director for specialty leasing for Kimco.
Pop-ups can crop up in almost any setting and increasingly have been used not only as sales outlets but as marketing tools to promote products, brands and entertainment. They count on the element of surprise.
“There’s this new thing that’s come into your neighborhood,” said Matthew Glass, senior vice president of New York-based Allied Experiential, a marketing division of Allied Global Marketing that creates promotional pop-ups. “That’s one of the reasons why it’s not up for very long. ... You have to see it before it leaves.”
You can try out brands that you’re interested in, and with so much traffic at the mall, you know right away what’s a hit and what’s not."— Susannah Siger, owner of Socks Appeal at The Mall in Columbia
Allied Experiential created more than 200 “pop-overs,” a term for using functioning rather than vacant space, for Netflix in 2016 to promote the streaming service’s reboot of the popular “Gilmore Girls” television series. The agency transformed coffee shops in each state, including the Daily Grind and three other shops in Baltimore, for one day into the show’s Luke’s Diner.
A decade or so ago, “it was hard to find a landlord that was willing to rent you a space” short term, and risk losing a longer-term tenant, Glass said.
“Landlords have realized there’s a business here,” he said.
Ten Thousand Villages in Fells Point, an independent, nonprofit store that sells handcrafted goods such as jewelry, scarves and home goods, branched out this fall with a pop-up shop at Hunt Valley Towne Centre in Hunt Valley.
Managers began scouting potential sites for a pop-up in March, driving around to area malls to observe customer traffic. They leased space in Hunt Valley in a former Gymboree, a children’s chain that filed for bankruptcy early this year and closed hundreds of stores. Ten Thousand Villages will stay in Hunt Valley at least until Jan. 15.
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“It’s a good way to test the market in that area, to see if it’s a good fit,” said Dora Zimmerman, manager of Ten Thousand Villages’ permanent and temporary stores. “It’s a great way to promote our mission of helping our artisans to a whole new community."
Another pop-up, Match Made Stores, at Kenilworth through Dec. 31, aims to appeal across generations, especially to mothers and daughters shopping together for unique apparel and accessories. Owner Brittany Parry has run a permanent store by the same name for two years on 36th Street in Hampden.
“It’s such a great opportunity to just bring awareness to the other store,” Parry said. “Even if I get one customer that shops with us here in Kenilworth to come to Hampden, it’s worth it.”
Siger, owner of Socks Appeal, said she developed the sock store idea last year, approached the Columbia mall and opened there for the first time last holiday season. This year, mall leasing agents invited her back, and she will stay through Dec. 29.
Running the temporary store is part of Siger’s larger effort to compete. Besides the Columbia pop-up and Ma Petite Shoe, she runs a second sock pop-up in Hampden, sells products online and works to promote Hampden’s neighborhood shops.
As a small retailer, she said, “you can no longer sit behind the counter and twiddle your thumbs. You really have to go out for business in every way possible.”