If you live or shop in a major American city, you might have already noticed the trend without realizing what you were looking at. Turn a familiar corner, and a new makeup brand—a name vaguely familiar from Instagram ads—might be offering virtual-reality makeovers. Turn another, and a buzzy young chef might be slinging experimental ice-cream flavors inside a diner you thought had just closed. If you’ve ever walked into what was nominally a clothing store, only to be prompted to acquire the things you want through home delivery by ordering them from a bank of iPads, you’ve almost certainly encountered a pop-up. And if everything goes as planned, something new will be in the same spot by the time the novelty wears off.
When vendors are chosen carefully, pop-ups can bring the mom-and-pop feeling back to neighborhoods that were once known for their unique urban cultures but that now host a retinue of national pharmacies and fast-casual salad joints. But temporary-retail models haven’t just piqued the interest of plucky upstarts. While some pop-ups bring ephemeral art galleries or music venues to neighborhoods, others host Uniqlo stores, exclusive opportunities to lie on Casper mattresses, or long lines for limited-edition Louis Vuitton handbags. In particular, internet-based start-ups such as the clothing retailer Everlane and the luggage brand Away have found the pop-up model convenient. People who have seen their products online get to inspect them in person, often alongside shopper-friendly amenities such as gratis cocktails and personalization services such as monogramming.
In the pop-up-shop economy, place and time are as essential to success as what’s going on inside the storefronts themselves. People want to have a day out, and they want to tell their friends they bought the new print hanging in their apartment at a cute little boutique everyone else missed out on. Perhaps no one has capitalized on this better than Appear Here, a company that acts as a pop-up middleman, streamlining the process for both landlords and tenants who might not want to deal personally with frequent turnover or searching for open-minded property owners. The seeds of Appear Here were planted in 2012, when its eventual founder, Ross Bailey, wanted to lease a storefront for a couple of weeks in London to sell T-shirts and prints with cheeky images of the queen reimagined as David Bowie—the kind of idea that’s not really compatible with the five-, 10-, and 20-year retail leases that have long been the norm in major cities. Landlords kept hanging up the phone on him, he says. He tried to sell the shirts online, but business was slow.
Eventually, a landlord relented to a short-term agreement, and Bailey claims to have sold more shirts in a day in London’s Soho neighborhood than he did in a month on the internet. “Everyone is talking about how experiences are becoming the future,” he says, referring to the now-conventional wisdom that young shoppers want to do things instead of buy things. But, he realized, physical places to have these experiences matter, too. Bailey launched Appear Here in 2014, and the company now has hundreds of shop listings that can be rented for as short as a single day or as long as a few years in cities across America and Europe. The company works with giant brands, such as Nike and Coca-Cola, and celebrities such as Kanye West and Michelle Obama, but Bailey maintains that most of its clients are independent businesses.