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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mom-and-Pops and Pop-up Retail: Cousins

International Business Times | Challenge: Pop-up Retail Store
My x/y generation definition for mom-and-pops: individual business owner OR local franchise.

Do you remember a time when you could walk to the corner store, pick up "a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter" or, in Home Alone, "the milk, the eggs, and the fabric softener". You could wave hi to your neighbors sitting on the porch and to the old men sitting on milk crates chatting outside the... YES, you do. If you live in a dense city,  you do. It's now. If you do not remember life like this and you live in America, it means you live in one of the following: a city that has gone through economic hardship, a suburb, an office park, farmland, or (insert opinion) a new urbanist community that promised you these moments and didn't follow through. If you long for that Mom-and-Pops lifestyle, go out there, find it, and grab it! I know, I know, the Big Box phenomenon has suffocated the Mom-and-Pops scene and you're angry... this post is not going there.
I Can Remember - Sesame Street, Season 4, Episode 46
Who doesn't love a street vendor? Piping hot street meat that curbs your "Saturday-afternoon-shopping-spree" hunger, your "late-night,-just-left-the-bar-with-too-much-of-one-substance-in-your-belly" balancing act, your "gotta-run-from-one-meeting-to-the-next" minute meal, or your "forgot-to-go-to-the-bank-today-and-need-something-cheap" lunch. How about the Prada, Gucci, and Coach bags that would typically cost you ten times more in a store or online? They might be originals!?! The heat of negotiation with the shady man or woman who is constantly looking around to make sure no one of legal importance is around is experiential. Then there are those over-zealous silversmiths who offer bargains as you stand and look, "I'll give you two rings for the price of one, carry the seven". Wait, what? 

In the family tree of Local Retail, street vending is an in-law to the moms-and-pops. It associates with the family yet it has a distinct genetic makeup and nature. The sometimes destabilizing temporary urban moments where the guy will pick up his bag of purses and run away once he sees an officer of the law sets vending apart from the mom-and-pops.

Pop-up stores, retail kiosks, and the trending cupcake trucks are cousins to mom-and-pops. As cousins, they are the kind that have met more than once but not the kind that have kissed; their relationship lies somewhere in between. Yes, the mom-and-pop store represents the stable, hardworking, local that pays special attention to its customers while the pop-up store "pops up" and "down" and is shipped away after any given season and the cupcake truck drives away returning only if 'enough' Chocolaty Chippy Deluxes were sold. Let's put time aside for minute. 
Image from CBC
Image from NBC
Pop-ups and mom-and-pops share some of the same genes. Although pop-ups can represent large corporations, they are urbanistically not invasive like big boxes. They are, instead, a boutique of sorts that accommodates seasonal or trending commerce. Pop-ups are a physical representation of a cultural trend. Generally speaking, pop-up stores are strategically sensitive to the character of their temporary neighborhood. If they aren't utilizing vacant lots, parking lots, and parks just like your local christmas tree or pumpkin salesman, they are temporarily leasing vacant storefronts to provide  you with all your Halloween needs. An example is Target Highline Pop-up for the Meat Packing District in New York - on the Highline that (insert opinion) reminds me of Santa's House that "popped up" after Thanksgiving and disappeared after Christmas every year in my home town. Quality nostalgia.

The aspect of time is a trait from the street vending in-law branch. Without temporary or transient, we wouldn't recognize steady and regular. Bo Duke, the younger and wild cousin and Luke Duke, the mature and rational cousin on the Dukes of Hazzard, clearly needed a bit of each other to successfully carry out a plan. What would mom-and-pops be without the retail phenomenon of pop-up?
Dukes of Hazzard
The demographic content of the neighborhood is what brought the pop-up there in the first place. The success of the store depends on participation. To those of you who could care less for the discussion of mom-and-pops and corporate retail and you just "really liked those cupcakes and that truck was great for the neighborhood and local culture and now its gone!" and you "want a cupcake store around all of the time!" - Go out there and buy those Chocolaty Chippy Deluxes!

Check out this design competition, Pop-Up Store Challenge by  Design by Many, and vote for your favorite.

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