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Business model has Arnold neighbors popping up all over Annapolis

One year ago, Ellen Lunay and Amy Fresty would get confused looks when they described the concept of their new business.

The neighbors from Arnold were looking for a short-term lease in a commercial building — a couple of weeks at most — to operate a boutique featuring local artists and trendy clothes.

Once they finally found a landlord willing to lease space to them, HERE., a pop-up shop, was born.

Lunay and Fresty filled a vacant space on Spa Road in Annapolis with jewelry, home goods, artwork and clothes from 20 artists and designers. The store had the theme "flirting with spring" and was open for a brief, gone-before-you-know-it 10 days in March.

It didn't take long for Annapolis to catch on to the idea of the "pop-up shop," a trend that has been popularized in other cities but had never really been tried in Annapolis before. Now instead of hunting for spaces, Lunay and Fresty get leads from customers, landlords and other business owners offering them ideas on where they should pop up next.

"We constantly get, 'Hey, did you know this is empty?' " Lunay said. "Now we have a good reputation."

After their launch in March, HERE. popped up again throughout Annapolis in 2013: on Randall Street in May, off of Forest Drive in July, on West Street in October and on Main Street in December.

For their second year in business, the women are heading to Eastport for a pop-up shop opening Feb.7 for 10 days. They're lining up special events to coincide with their store, including an opening night reception, a "give back" day benefiting the Dare to CARE Heart Health Foundation, visits from fashion trucks and collaborations with local restaurants.

"The setting is a boutique, but it ends up being a 10-day event," Lunay said.

Each time it opens, HERE. features dozens of local artists. The lineup changes from shop to shop, and even repeat artists and designers will sell different items each time. No two designers are alike.

Some of the past products include cake stands made of vintage plates attached to candlestick holders, handmade cutting boards, hand-painted signs made of recycled materials and photography.

Lara Fritts, president of the Annapolis Economic Development Corp., praised Lunay and Fresty's partnerships with local artists and creative use of social media and word of mouth to advertise their stores.

"A lot of the products and merchandise they feature in their store are local vendors who might not be ready to have their own storefront. Supplying a pop-up shop is a great way to get exposure for their products," Fritts said.

The pop-ups also help draw attention to vacant spaces available for lease. At least two spots occupied by HERE. last year now have long-term tenants, Fritts said.

Fresty and Lunay say they're invigorated by the relationships they build with customers, artists, landlords and other businesses. They've become friends with many of their artists and designers, and look forward to seeing repeat customers.

"It's been fun for us to get to know each area of Annapolis we pop up in," Fresty said.

For Lunay and Fresty, HERE. is a side venture. Both have other jobs that allow them the flexibility to pursue the pop-up shops: Fresty works in the mortgage industry, working some of her hours at flexible times from home, while Lunay and her husband operate a marine supply business from their house.

The women said they have supportive husbands and five kids between them: Fresty is motherto 8-year-old Jack and 5-year-old twins Max and Lola, while Lunay is has 10-year-old Lucy and 7-year-old Izzy.

Lunay said she came up with the idea of opening a pop-up in November 2012, when a friend visiting from California mentioned she knew a designer who operated one. Lunay had heard of the concept, but usually it was for big-name stores such as Target or just for the holidays.

"It was just a really cool idea for me," she said. "I couldn't stop thinking about it."

Lunay was so obsessed with the idea, she would wake up in the middle of the night while visiting her parents for Thanksgiving to scribble down ideas. After getting her family on board, she approached Fresty. The two had worked together designing and selling spirit wear for their children's school, Arnold Elementary, and had a great time.

"I was sold immediately," Fresty said.

By January 2013, they had written a business plan, created their company and secured their first space.

They keep overhead low by signing short leases — with only a couple days on either side of the 10 days they are open to set up and break down — and having a consignment relationship with artists and designers. They don't have to lay out money up front for inventory, and they aren't stuck with unsold products at the end of each pop-up run.

They staff the stores themselves, with the exception of December's shop in downtown Annapolis, where they hired an employee to help with late-night hours.

With five pop-ups under their belt, Lunay and Fresty are getting requests to pop up in other locations — and more frequently. For now, they are exploring what's best for the business.

"We're excited it's growing," Lunay said.

Added Fresty: "2014 is about seeing where HERE. is going."

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