Communities wanting to help revitalize their commercial districts post-COVID may want to consider the concept of pop-ups. In our city of Madison, Wisconsin, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway recently introduced The Madison Pop-Up Shop Initiative. It addresses the need to help the businesses of downtown Madison who were hit hard by the pandemic, as well as the city’s strong desire to encourage BIPOC entrepreneurs in our community. 

According to the mayor’s recent blog post, this new program “would take vacant storefronts and turn them into pop-up shops, with an emphasis on supporting businesses owned by folks from historically marginalized communities.”  Rhodes-Conway said the new initiative would simultaneously help grow BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) businesses and help the revitalize Madison’s storefronts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mayor went on to point out that “Pop-up shops bring in new foot traffic and can help current brick and mortar retail in the area as well.” This is a crucial element in the recovery of existing businesses, because most areas are seeing a reluctance by some customers to give up doing their shopping.  Vacancies – some caused by the decline in brick and mortar retail pre-pandemic – mean fewer independent shopping opportunities to draw customers away from big box options.

Madison is looking at two downtown storefronts that might be converted into pop-up shops. According to Saran Ouk, Office of Business Resources Manager for the city, “Lower cost short term leases make it easier for [businesses] to establish a presence without the long term obligations that traditional 3-5 year lease agreements requires. It’s a model that benefits the business, the landlord and the community.”

Shopify agrees that this short-term option is particularly viable now. “With businesses in various stages of closure, it may seem like an odd time to set up a pop-up shop. But as the world recovers, consumers will be hungry for real-life experiences. And while they’ve gotten used to the convenience of shopping online, they miss feeling connected to brands (and to each other) in a physical environment.” If you’re thinking of testing a retail concept by opening a pop-up shop, take a look at Shopify’s extensive advice on the topic.

An additional effort that Madison is considering is encouraging more outdoor vending by retailers, especially for customers wanting to avoid crowded settings due to COVID.  The city’s popular “Streatery” program was designed to fascinate outdoor dining, and merchant vending is being added to this effort. But with the long months of winter in Wisconsin, popping into a pop-up store will be a more inviting option much of the year.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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