Gita Chowdhury was looking for more exposure for her clothing and accessories boutique, dresscode by Gita, during the busy holiday season. Developers of the new Legg Mason building in Harbor East were looking for retail tenants during a slow economic time.
Both got what they wanted when the Legg Mason building's ground floor was converted last weekend into "pop-up" stores for five retailers in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Such stores, where retailers "pop up" in temporary locations for short periods, have become more popular across the nation as retailers - including giants such as Target and Toys "R" Us - look for innovative ways to attract shoppers. Some are open for months; others for only a few days.
"It allows you to play with your own image and reinvent yourself," said Chowdhury, whose main store is at the Village of Cross Keys shopping complex. "During a recession, you can't be still. You have to reinvent yourself."
For developers and leasing agents, the concept brings life to empty storefronts and generates a little rent money. Prime locations in the Legg Mason building, just east of the Inner Harbor, are probably out of reach for many of the tenants that have set up "pop-up stores," but they can afford it for a few weeks.
Pop-up stores have been around for several years in major cities, but interest has grown lately, particularly among larger retailers, industry analysts said.
"The reason the scale has grown to this level is a function of the weakness of the economy and the largest amount of vacancies we have seen a long time," said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a retail consulting and brokerage firm based in New York. "Rents are tumbling, and now landlords are suddenly a lot more interested."
Online auction site eBay opened its first pop-up store for 10 days in November next door to Bergdorf Goodman at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York. Toys "R" Us has 80 pop-up stores that opened in October and will close in January. Sneaker maker Puma and designer jean maker 7 for All Mankind have opened pop-up stores in Boston this year.
Target tried the concept for the first time in 2002 with a floating store on the Hudson River for the holiday season. It has since opened other temporary stores, including a 1,500-square-foot store at New York's Rockefeller Center to celebrate a new fashion line by Isaac Mizrahi. This weekend, Target To Go stores will open for three days in three cities, including Washington's Georgetown neighborhood.
Target uses the pop-up stores to introduce new products, create a buzz for certain merchandise or bring its brand to new markets, said company spokeswoman Lena Michaud. "It's a way to bring a slice of that Target experience to guests who might not have easy access to a Target store."
Chowdhury heard about the pop-up idea from a retailer who opened a store along the high-end Bond Street shopping district in London. She knew some of the developers of the Legg Mason building and approached them with the idea.
Now she is one of five retailers that share a large storefront space. The others are: Doubledutch Boutique, Di(e)ce Boutique, Shine Collective and Patrick Sutton Home. Patrick Sutton Home is the only one that plans to remain once the holiday season ends.
Most of the retailers, located in neighborhoods such as Federal Hill and Hampden, hope to introduce their stores to new customers. They also get an entree to a high-end district they normally couldn't afford - even if it is only for a short amount of time. The boost is especially important during the recession, some retailers said.
The 7,300-square-foot space they share looks temporary, but in a hip way. Floors are concrete, and the exposed pipes and ceiling give the space an industrial feel. There are no walls between the stores, so they almost blend into one another. Most of the retailers sell a sampling of what they offer in their main stores.
Clothes are hung on rolling racks. Dressing rooms are basic, with plain curtains. And the decor is simple but creative: Doubledutch painted cardboard boxes with its emblem and hung turquoise flowers made of tissue paper from the ceiling.
Molly O'Connell, a Doubledutch sales associate, said the store has seen new customers since opening at Harbor East. "There are so many people coming in who haven't heard of us and haven't been to our store in Hampden. Now they know who we are."
Di(e)ce Boutique, a clothing and art store in Federal Hill, also hoped to attract a new audience. Leah Staley, who was working at the pop-up recently, said the concept lets people know about smaller boutiques in Baltimore.
During a recent lunchtime, a number of shoppers, mostly workers from the neighborhood, stopped to browse among the stores. They smelled Godiva candles and rubbed on black pepper lotion from Patrick Sutton Home, fingered scarves at Shine Collective and eyed dresses at Doubledutch.
Allyson Clark and Terri Kee, who work at Legg Mason, dropped by on their way to lunch. They liked the convenience of the stores and being able to sample several retailers at once.
"There are a lot of unique items in here," said Kee. "There are a lot of things you wouldn't find in other stores."
Jacque Turner, who works nearby,bought a black dress with a peacock design on the front from Doubledutch for about $50. She also liked having so many shopping choices in one place and said the retailers should benefit from being in a well-populated area.
"I think it's a cool concept," she said.