Few communities in America have escaped the decline in retail businesses that has resulted from the changes in the marketplace over the past few years. A study this month states that 20% of the retail spaces in Manhattan are either currently vacant or about to be, a phenomenon also hitting shopping streets and malls across the country. (See The Empty Storefront Crisis blog entry from earlier this year.)

Pop up shops have been one bright spot in this bleak picture – temporarily renting vacant space is less expensive than a long-term lease, and requires less investment in inventory. These temporary stores also prevent vacancies from being a blight on the neighborhood, and sometimes pop ups are successful enough that they “grow up” to be full-fledged retailers

The Danville Mall in Danville, Virginia (above) is using a clever idea to take full advantage of this trend. They are hosting a contest in search of the “next great pop-up shop.” The winner will receive a free retail space during the holiday season, and $1,000 towards redesigning the store.

Hawaii’s Windward Mall is in the midst of its second Pop-Up Challenge, and their first winner now has an inline store in their mall. Ceandrys Black of R.A.W. Body Essentials says, “Having a retail in-line location on the beautiful island of Oahu was a dream. The more I persevered it seemed unattainable until an opportunity for a Pop-Up challenge came…Now, my dream is a reality and every day I’m grateful for the push behind the Pop-Up Challenge. Mahalo for challenging me to “Live Authentically.”

The prize in Windward Mall’s contest is a three month lease on an RMU (retail merchandising unit) during the holiday season, and the use of existing mall fixtures and utilities. To enter, participants must have a business license and write a proposal that is judged on business strategy, concept creativity, and likelihood of profitability.

Starwood Retail Partners, a company that runs many malls across the country, started hosting their Battle of the Pop-Ups in 3 of their centers in 2017, providing four months of rent-free space to the winners. The event will expand to 24 properties this year, because according to Catherine Loy, vice president and head of business development, “It’s genuinely thrilling to see these entrepreneurs become seasoned retailers, and to have them come from the local community is even more important. These are neighbors serving neighbors.”

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder

PS If your city, town or mall decides to encourage new business through a pop up competition, you’ll want to give careful consideration to the wording of the rules. Make sure that your guidelines for applications and judging are clear – and that they follow the letter of the law in your municipality.