It's win-win-win-win: filling a vacant retail space with a temporary store or similar venture. A retailer gets exposure and money; the street gets added vibrancy; a landlord can show off a spot's potential; and passersby may discover something they need.
"Pop-up" retailing has been gaining traction, most notably in cities far larger and -- dare we say it -- trendier than Pittsburgh. But today even mass retailers are looking for buzz. New York City has hosted pop-ups for Levi's, Crown Royal, Meow Mix, J.C. Penney and Target, often to trumpet something new. (Penney's, for example, previewed a new bridal line).
Locally, previous pop-ups have often had an "art" angle. Lawrenceville's long-running Art All Night is re-born in a new empty spot each spring. And Downtown, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust works to fill vacant storefronts, often by turning them into temporary art galleries.
For its recent holiday sale, meanwhile, the roving craft market I Made It! used space vacated by Ann Taylor Loft at SouthSide Works. Organizer Carrie Nardini says that with help from Soffer Organization, which operates the Works, the pop-up brought additional people to the complex, while providing shoppers with the opportunity to support local crafters.
Maya Henry, business district manager of Lawrenceville Corporation, agrees pop-ups help drive traffic. She cites last summer's "Handmade in Marriage," for which Butler Street venues Wildcard and Istanbul partnered with I Made It! for an indie bridal show.
Not every location can be transformed so easily: Despite the popularity of the monthly Unblurred event along Penn Avenue, many storefronts sit unused. It's a source of frustration for Rick Swartz, of Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. There are about 30 vacant or underutilized properties in the corridor, he says, languishing for lack of owner interest: "To ask them to be more enterprising ... is like banging your head against a wall."
Meeghan Triggs, a glass artist who recently moved to Lawrenceville, fared better. She lives above a former bar at 5262 Butler St., which her landlord thought would look better with artwork displayed in the windows. During last fall's Artist's Studio Tour and four-day Cookie Tour, Triggs moved her wares -- functional art objects like plates and coasters -- into the vacant storefront. A sidewalk sign, some flyers and word-of-mouth, and Triggs was in business. She now hopes to re-pop-up during future events.
Pittsburgh is already popping ... and like mushrooms, one pop-up should generate more.