Pop-Up Spaces and Mobile Vending

On this page:
What are Pop-Up Spaces and Programs?
How Can Pop-Ups Help Tackle Commercial Gentrification?
What Makes a Good Pop-Up Program?
What are the Challenges or Risks?
Examples of Pop-Up Programs
What is Mobile Vending?
Examples of Mobile Vending

What are Pop-Up Spaces and Programs?

Pop-up spaces make use of existing venues to set up temporary public gathering places, retail stores, restaurants, art installations, and many other uses. Pop-up spaces may occupy vacant storefronts, stand-alone kiosks, or even repurposed shipping containers. Big name brands, such as Target, AT&T, Louis Vuitton, and many others, have used pop-up retail spaces (also known as pop-up retail, pop-up stores, pop-up shops, or flash retailing) as an advertising tactic to create a buzz around their products. Small local businesses can also benefit from using pop-up spaces, especially those that are seasonal (think Halloween store or Christmas tree lot), or those that are just starting up.

LittleBits Store, New York City. http://media.bizj.us/view/img/6474712/littlebits-store-soho-2015*750xx2958-1664-60-0.jpg

Pop-up programs come in many shapes, sizes, and operational flavors. They may be operated by community development corporations (CDCs), preservation development authorities (PDAs), private corporations, state or local governments, business improvement districts, or other economic development organizations. They may use a number of leasing models, including some of the ones listed here. No matter the operating entity or the leasing model, the one element that characterizes a pop-up space is the temporary nature of its use. Even then, “temporary” could mean six months or one night only. The flexibility of this business model means that, given a dedicated team and a vacant space, it can be successfully implemented in almost any neighborhood.

How Can Pop-Ups Help Tackle Commercial Gentrification?

Pop-ups temporarily activate empty or under-utilized storefronts, which can help revitalize struggling retail districts. Whether it’s an art installation or a merchandise display, an active storefront will be more effective than an empty one at generating foot traffic and retail activity. Surrounding businesses will benefit from the traffic generated by a nearby pop-up, which may help them stay afloat even as commercial rental rates rise due to gentrification. Pop-ups also help landlords and building owners market their space to prospective tenants and vet potential new tenants.

Additionally, pop-ups allow small businesses and entrepreneurs to test out new products, locations, or markets without needing to commit a great deal of capital toward securing or improving a physical space. This low-cost, low-risk environment may help an existing business expand to reach a new market, or help a new business evaluate customer responses to their products and services before they decide to scale up. If pop-up spaces are geared toward serving locally owned and culturally appropriate businesses, local entrepreneurs may be able to open or expand their businesses in the neighborhood, rather than being displaced.

What Makes a Good Pop-Up Program?

  • Flexible, Visible Space – Pop-up spaces should be able to accommodate diverse tenants and provide them with plenty of storefront visibility.
  • Building the Right Team – Pop-up programs whose aim is to create lasting neighborhood change should partner with with local leaders, existing business owners, and prospective program funders. A successful team should also include members dedicated to marketing, promotion, and providing technical business assistance to new entrepreneurs.
  • Community Engagement – When residents are engaged in the process of creating a pop-up shop, this strengthens the connection between entrepreneurs or business owners and their potential customers. Engaging residents also empowers them to shape the retail and restaurant options they see in their own community, strengthening the community’s identity in the process.

What are the Challenges or Risks?

Commercial property owners/landlords generally prefer that tenants agree to longer lease terms (at least three years) because they want to avoid the costs of having to find and sign a new tenant after just a few months. As the nature of pop-up spaces does not fit into this model, it is helpful to have a non-profit organization or other entity act as an intermediary. The non-profit organization would lease the space long-term and then accommodate different vendors–for a few months at a time–over that term. For an example of this model, see Spaceworks Tacoma below.

Another challenge facing pop-up programs is helping businesses sustain momentum after their temporary lease, event, or installation reaches the end of its immediate terms. Technical assistance and outreach can help entrepreneurs run their businesses more independently, and perhaps even transition into a permanent space, after their participation in a pop-up program. In this way, pop-up programs can function like neighborhood business incubators by helping entrepreneurs demonstrate the feasibility of their business to potential funders, landlords, and other community stakeholders.

Examples of Pop-Up Programs

Tacoma: Spaceworks Creative Enterprise Program 

  • Open to for-profit or non-profit “creative enterprises” (e.g. galleries, museums, art performances, boutiques, and retail shops)
  • No- or low-cost temporary space for up to six months
  • Professional development and peer-to-peer support

Seattle: Food and Sh*t

  • Food & Sh*t started as a monthly dinner party amongst friends and family, but has evolved into a popular ticketed pop-up event hosted at a number of restaurants in Seattle and other cities.
  • The pop-up spawned the creation of Hood Famous Bakeshop, an online bakery with 9 retailers in Washington and Oregon.


What is Mobile Vending?

Like pop-ups, mobile vending gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to start up their businesses with much lower overhead costs than renting or buying traditional commercial space. Over the past decade, food trucks have become increasingly popular in many U.S. cities, opening up a thriving industry to small business owners and local entrepreneurs. A new movement is emerging in mobile vending, with retailers opening up “fashion trucks” to sell clothing, accessories, or other merchandise.

LittleBits Store, New York City. http://media.bizj.us/view/img/6474712/littlebits-store-soho-2015*750xx2958-1664-60-0.jpg

Examples of Mobile Vending

Seattle: Georgetown Trailer Park Mall

  • Re-purposed trailers parked on private land
  • Women-owned businesses that sell vintage clothing, jewelry, and other unique items

Seattle: Food Trucks

  • This website lists dozens of food trucks operating in Seattle and helps customers find them by showing which trucks will be in which neighborhood, depending on the day.
  • The “For Trucks” section also includes helpful resources for anyone interested in starting their own food truck business.


WEBSITE | PopUp Republic’s List of Pop-Up Spaces in Seattle
WEBSITE | American Mobile Retail Association
REPORT | Pop-Up Program Development: Lessons Learned and Best Practices in Retail Evolution
REPORT | Upwardly Mobile: Street Vending and the American Dream
REPORT | Streets of Dreams: How Cities Can Create Economic Opportunity by Knocking Down Protectionist Barriers to Street Vending
EXAMPLE | Tacoma: Spaceworks Creative Enterprise Program
EXAMPLE | Seattle: Food and Sh*t
EXAMPLE | Seattle: Georgetown Trailer Park Mall
EXAMPLE | Seattle: Food Trucks