By KEITH MULVIHILL | Published: June 22, 2010 | As published by the New York Times
“Four days ago this was nothing; that wall didn’t exist,” an ebullient Charles Gibb, the president of Belvedere Vodka, said on a recent night as he pointed to a pristine white wall in a meatpacking district space covered with images of a model wearing a citrus-pink caftan.
Nearby, the comedian Chelsea Handler chatted with admirers while sipping a cocktail. Clusters of well-dressed young people raised camera-phones to snap photos of the occasional celebrity (Ashley Olsen and Kelly Osbourne, among others, stopped by).
The garment in the photos was created by the designer Matthew Williamson especially for the occasion: the introduction of Belvedere’s pink grapefruit flavor. (The caftan was for sale across the street, at the Williamson boutique, for $1,195.)
Three days later, the photographs, the stars and all traces of Belvedere were gone — one more pop-up shop that served its purpose.
The concept of a “now you see it, now you don’t” store is commonly tied to a holiday theme: the New York beauty store Ricky’s opens more than a dozen Halloween costume shops in September and October. And last winter Toys “R” Us opened 33 Holiday Express locations in the tristate area.
But in the last few years pop-ups have flourished in New York regardless of the holiday calendar. For building owners they are a way to fill vacant space and for sellers they offer a place to gauge the reception to their brand or introduce new products, without a long-term rental commitment.
“The great thing about a pop-up space is that it allows you to have one very consistent, very clear and very distinct message around the brand,” Mr. Gibb said. Belvedere negotiated a deal to lease the 6,500-square-foot second-floor space at 414 West 14th Street a few months in advance. Within a few days of the three-night event, a team of designers, painters and construction workers turned it into a softly lighted den of glamour.
David Sitt, vice president of operations at Sitt Asset Management, which owns the recently rehabbed building with the Carlyle Group, said attention-grabbing pop-ups, like the Belvedere Vodka event, could be a way to introduce prospective clients to the building.
“This is an open house that pays for itself,” he said. “You never know who’s connected with who. Someone could walk in and fall in love with the building or tell a potential client.”
Jeffrey Roseman, an executive vice president of Newmark Knight Frank Retail, said a recent pop-up store at 626 Broadway for Zumiez, an action-sports retailer based in Everett, Wash., was an effective way to advertise the space itself, as well as the Zumiez brand.
“When I was showing the space to prospective retailers,” Mr. Roseman said, “they were jamming out of that store, music was blasting and kids were running in and buying stuff. The retailer we brought in there really had an opportunity to see life in a prospective store.”
Occasionally, pop-up retailers may go on to negotiate a long-term lease. “It’s like taking the car out for a spin before you buy it,” Mr. Roseman said.
Generally, Mr. Roseman said, the per-square-foot prices for pop-ups are comparable to long-term leases on a pro-rated basis. “It’s a month’s rent for what it would rent for on a long-term basis,” he said. “It’s generally not a discount for the month.”
Whether or not the surge of pop-ups over the last few years is strictly a reaction to the recession is hard to say, as no one tracks their occurrence. Still, given the economic climate, there is no dearth of empty high-visibility retail space, and opportunities for pop-ups still seem strong. One wrench in the longevity of the concept is declining rents, which may attract more long-term tenants and quell landlords’ desire to deal with pop-ups.
The retail rental market “is starting to pick up,” Mr. Sitt said. “Starting in 2011, I don’t think you’ll see as many” pop-ups. But judging by the swift business at Target’s Liberty of London pop-up shop in March at 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue across from Bryant Park (open for a few days, it sold out of merchandise and closed a day early), it appears that shoppers have not tired of them. “I think they’re here to stay; it’s great advertising,” Mr. Roseman said.
Mark Helder, the architect and owner of Metropolitan Green, a recently completed condominium in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said he wasn’t actually looking for a long-term leasing client; he preferred the flexibility offered by revolving pop-ups.
Metropolitan Green was completed in December and took on its first retail pop-up client in the cozy 660-square foot storefront.
“My original idea was to provide a space that could be used by local artisans,” said Mr. Helder. People can use the space anywhere from a long weekend to a maximum of two months. The monthly rate is just under $4,000, which includes utilities, insurance and Wi-Fi.
For some building owners, the choice of offering a temporary lease may have little to do with cash flow. In April, the Architectural League of New York signed a two-month agreement for a 3,100-square-foot storefront at 250 Hudson Street, and mounted a photo-driven exhibit called “The City We Imagined/The City We Made: New New York 2001-2010.”
“We are not making any money on the deal but we thought it might be good to show a little life on the street,” said Dennis P. Brady, the managing director at Jack Resnick & Sons, the company that owns the building. “We figured it’s good for the neighborhood, good for the store and good for the building.”
“It’s only two months, so even if I do get someone who comes along and wants the store, by the time you put a deal together it’s going to be two months anyway,” Mr. Brady said.
Ellen Baer, president of the Hudson Square Business Improvement District, said she could not be happier. Late last fall, after taking stock of vacant retail space, Ms. Baer said she began gauging building owners’ interest in doing pop-ups, whether retail or gallery shows.
“It helps to showcase available spaces, it brings foot traffic here that might not otherwise come to this neighborhood, and it provides people with activities that are consistent with the theme and vibe of the neighborhood,” Ms. Baer said.
Similar pop-ups by other neighborhood business improvement groups are happening throughout the city. The Port Authority currently has a month-to-month lease agreement with the Fashion Center business improvement district and the Times Square Alliance. The retail space, a storefront at the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 41st Street and Eighth Avenue, has been called Blank SL8. In April and May it was home to TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based store that sells products made from waste materials. In downtown Brooklyn, at 177 Livingston Street, a 5,000-square-foot retail space is a temporary home to two arts and one education organization that are hosting monthly events.
“Using vacant retail space for temporary shops or exhibits is brilliant,” said Bill Chororos, who was visiting the Architectural League’s exhibit on Hudson Street on a recent weekend. “Anything is better than dead space.”
“To people not in the real estate business, the notion that landlords can leave empty retail space for years is mind-boggling,” Mr. Chororos said.
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