There was no skate ramp at the back of the store on Mulberry Street the morning of Friday, August 21. Then, on Saturday, there was a skate ramp, and it was filled with pro skaters, local kids, and confused and excited passersby who gradually figured out that they had wandered into a perfect example of the exploding market phenomenon known as pop-up retail. This one was courtesy of Quiksilver, the California-based surf and skate outfitter, and eight days later, it was gone.
Pop-ups are here, there, and everywhere this fall, especially this month, thanks to Fashion Week and our tendency to want to buy new stuff in the fall. We might even be entering some kind of a pop-up golden age, as an overstock of available storefronts coincides with brands’ trying to build interest and excitement any way they can, even if it means “guerrilla retail” techniques like offering a line of goods for sale and then snatching it away a week later. Two blocks away from Quiksilver’s installation, Target just closed its pop-up for Anna Sui’s line of Gossip Girl–inspired clothing; on the same street, Gucci will be rolling out a pop-up to promote its line of $500-plus Mark Ronson–co-designed sneakers in October. Over on Orchard Street, the haberdashers of London’s Newburgh Quarter spent three weeks selling skinny ties from a temporary store called Wish You Were Here with a croquet course in the back. Rachel Roy, Original Penguin, White House/Black Market, and Areaware are also hosting—or, by the time you read this, will have hosted—pop-ups. And there will likely be even more, which, true to form, will just kind of pop up, without warning or even a press release—like writer Naomi Nevitt’s Two Bridges Trading, which popped up in June in her own Chinatown apartment.
In all, for something that’s supposed to be temporary, pop-up stores and their distant cousin the food truck are starting to look like permanent features of the retailing landscape. The former was once the province of skeevy closeout shops and adventurous brands like Comme des Garçons, which launched the first well-known pop-up in 2004 in East Berlin. The latter has largely transcended its roach-coach classification and is now a respectable venue for aspiring chefs to launch careers.
Quiksilver’s pop-up wasn’t exactly all guerrilla, however; it was hosted by Openhouse Gallery, which bills itself as “New York’s Pop-Up Retail Location”— in other words, a permanent temporary space. Openhouse co-owner Jonathan Daou works in commercial real estate, saw the increasing demand for locations, and figured he would make some money by providing one. “We think we’ve found a real market,” he says. Perhaps. Landlords, facing huge vacancy rates this spring, had been willing to sign short-term leases, but that may be changing, at least in Manhattan. Then again—if the whole pop-up bubble burst, how would anyone know? It’s a genre that only makes sense when it’s a surprise.