New York community organization Made in the Lower East Side (miLES) demonstrated just how great the appetite is for temporary storefront space in lower Manhattan this past spring. Its call for applicants to creatively use a neighborhood storefront brought in more than 100 proposals, including 10 different pop-up stores, 20 pop-up classes, and a film festival.
Now the organization is looking to streamline the process of creating pop-ups by Storefront Transformer. It would contain everything an entrepreneur needs to quickly and easily set up shop, including furniture and lighting.
miLES is hoping to put the modular furniture kit to good use as it supports a second wave of pop-ups at a new storefront in the Lower East Side. It plans for seven different organizations to open up for a week at a time, including an exhibition on comic book artist Jack Kirby, a "living magazine" called Blood, Sweat & Fears, a temporary home for a nonprofit working on homelessness issues, a maker space, an educational space, a retail store, and a restaurant.
"We wanted to showcase how vacant storefronts could be re-imagined in creative ways and incubate new and emerging ideas for small business owners, for creatives, for nonprofits," founder Eric Ho says. And like Ho explained last time we chatted, the project is also about finding ways for the community to gain value from underused retail space, which can sit open indefinitely—even in desirable areas like the Lower East Side—while landlords wait for the perfect high-rent paying, long-term tenant to come along.
In theory, miLES should help landlords too, since the pop-ups provide excellent visibility for an empty space and offer the landlords rent money while the space sits open. But Ho says it's hard to find landlords who care to rent their spaces to miLES for a short term—it's typically only landlords with less desirable properties who will talk to them. What's worse is that real-estate brokers "block out a lot of our contact" with landlords, Ho says. "The broker has no incentive to help us with any of this because the business model doesn't work for the kind of commissions they get for a five-to-10-year lease."
Ho says the changing the pop-up concept weekly, instead of daily like the pilot they ran this spring, could make the initiative appeal to more landlords, who could rent out their storefront to miLES for a month at a time while they show the space off. "They can still advertise their space for long-term tenants," Ho says, "so we sort of occupy that gap time."
The furniture, created by Ho's design collaborative Architecture Commons, will come packed in a six-by-six-foot cube that can easily roll through the door of any storefront. Ho says it will include everything a pop-up would need for a temporary set-up, including a stage, display shelves, seating, Wi-Fi connectivity and speakers. Ho says the Kickstarter goal of $32,000 will go to paying rent on their storefront and prototyping the units.
If you're in New York City, look out for the pop-up store, coming to the Lower East Side this November and December.