Pop-Up Businesses Energize Communities

Example of a downtown main street.By Matt Ashby, AICP CUD, and Amanda Arnold, AICP

Is your downtown feeling a little empty and in need of a boost? You’re not alone; many downtowns and rural communities have struggled with empty storefronts over the years, and the COVID-19 pandemic will likely increase the number of vacancies. However, the shutdowns and social distancing have brought out new creativity in retailers and others. The need to spread out people as they shop and the effort to compete with online retail has brought about a surge in pop-up businesses.

Portrait of Ayres Matt Ashby.

About the Expert:

Matt Ashby, a certified urban planner, helps communities nationwide tell their stories and bring new life to blighted properties. His enthusiasm for vibrant community development sharpens the focus of Ayres’ work on brownfield redevelopment, transportation planning, urban park and recreation planning, and landscape architecture.

Portrait of Amanda Arnold

About the Expert:

Amanda Arnold has a passion for community development and outreach. She researches and analyzes data related to social, housing, commercial development, economic, population, environmental, and land use trends. She develops comprehensive, Main Street, and other urban plans and conducts downtown redevelopment studies.

What’s a Pop-Up Business?

A pop-up is the temporary use of a space for a retail establishment or other display. The space can be used for retail, a community initiative, or other effort. It can provide an opportunity for emerging or online retailers to try opening in a physical space, or it can allow an existing storefront retailer to expand its footprint. It can promote a product, event, or concept. Pop-ups can even be arts installations. For food purveyors, pop-ups can provide options for overcoming weather during winter seasons or for hosting special-event meals. During the pandemic, pop-ups can help retailers and restaurateurs become more resilient and better serve customers while also helping property owners fill space and gain revenue.

These temporary (and cost-efficient) installations can also help locals envision a new future for spaces that have been neglected for so long that few people even remember when the lights were on and cash registers were ringing.

Who Do Pop-Ups Help in My Community?

Filling storefronts helps existing stores, the downtown, and even the greater community.

  • Retailers – A pop-up can help retailers launch new ideas or products, expand their existing space, and create additional revenue.
  • Landlords – A pop-up can create immediate revenue, ensure that a space is maintained and active, and add vitality for any adjacent tenants.
  • Adjacent retailers – Pop-ups can generate more foot traffic, build synergy among businesses, and generate interest in downtown.
  • Shoppers – Pop-ups can create a new experience for shoppers, expose them to new products, and create a safer environment if the displays are well spaced.
  • Community – Pop-ups can enhance the local economy by generating income for retailers and landlords, battling potential blight, and creating a more active and vibrant downtown.

In short, pop-ups can transform a downtown.

How Do Pop-Ups Help My Community?

As consultants to Colorado’s Main Street Program, which helps revitalize western communities, we use transformation strategies that involve the following Four Points. You’ll see that pop-ups help with all four.

ECONOMIC VITALITY focuses on capital, incentives, and other economic and financial tools to assist new and existing businesses, catalyze property development, and create a supportive environment for entrepreneurs and innovators that drive local economies. Pop-ups:

  • Support creativity by allowing entrepreneurs and innovators to explore new ideas with a smaller investment than a long-term lease.
  • Can become permanent, creating new downtown merchants.
  • Bring in money for property owners.
  • Can introduce a business from a neighboring community to the option of expanding.

DESIGN supports a community’s transformation by enhancing the physical and visual assets that set the commercial district apart. Pop-ups:

  • Create visual interest in a downtown facade.
  • Give retailers the space they need to spread out for social distancing.
  • Involve unique or changing displays.
  • Help communities spark enthusiasm for larger- scale building revitalization.

PROMOTION positions the downtown or commercial district as the center of the community and hub of economic activity, while creating a positive image that showcases a community’s unique characteristics. Pop-ups:

  • Can create enthusiasm for the whole downtown.
  • Promote creative ideas.
  • Mitigate the blight that can come with empty storefronts.

ORGANIZATION involves creating a strong foundation for a sustainable revitalization effort, including cultivating partnerships, community involvement, and resources for the business district. Pop-ups:

  • Excel at reducing red tape to harness entrepreneurial enthusiasm.
  • Can promote or launch new or existing community events.
  • Can involve partnerships between multiple retailers or other groups.
  • Revitalize inactive areas.

Interested in learning more on how pop-ups can help your downtown and community? Check in next week when we’ll talk about specific tips for retailers, building owners/landlords, and local governments on how to make this innovative concept work for you. Can’t wait? Contact Matt Ashby or Amanda Arnold for a one-on-one discussion.

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