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Fall 2011 Increasing Traction for Trendy “Temporiums”

A government initiative to spur retail business in Washington, D.C. takes root and grows.

The city of Washington, D.C. is hoping to spark retail activity with its own creative spin on pop-up stores.

The D.C. Office of Planning has funded three temporary retail stores or “Temporiums” in the last year. The city is now hoping that the success of those experimental stores will help to foster more private sector pop-ups in neighborhoods throughout the city.

“We definitely think it has created a hunger to do more,” says Kimberly Driggins, the Office of Planning’s associate director for citywide planning. “It is definitely a win-win for the participants, the city and the property owner, because it generates excitement and buzz around an area.”

The Temporiums transform vacant storefronts or other empty spaces into a temporary retail space for local entrepreneurs, such as artists and designers, to exhibit and sell their work or products. “The Temporiums are an experiment to support our creative entrepreneurs, fill a physical gap in otherwise very vibrant arts and entertainment districts, and offer residents and visitors a unique shopping experience,” Driggins says.

The Temporium project is one of the key programs within the city’s broader Temporary Urbanism Initiative. The Temporary Urbanism Initiative, which the Office of Planning introduced in 2009, was born out of the downturn in the economy and a rise in vacant or under-utilized space. “It really was a reaction and a solution to help [fill] some of the vacant retail space in neighborhood corridors,” Driggins says. The Temporary Urbanism Initiative sponsors a variety of other short-term activities and events—such as concerts and artist exhibits—to promote an area or generate activity.

Pop-ups draw customers

Since first launching the program last year, the Office of Planning has awarded grants to three Temporiums in different D.C. neighborhoods—H Street NE, Shaw and Mount Pleasant. “All of the Temporiums had a different theme and were very successful,” Driggins says. The pop-up stores adapted to the available space and ranged in size from 900 square feet at the Mount Pleasant Temporium to as large as 7,000 square feet at Shaw.

“Given the down market, we knew there was vacant and under-utilized space and artists/entrepreneurs are always looking for below market or free space. So we thought if we matched the two it could be successful,” Driggins says. For example, the Mount Pleasant pop-up ran for 24 days in February and March. The shop housed merchandise from 34 local artisans and crafters, welcomed 6,800 visitors and generated $31,000 in gross sales. The store also featured a series of special events that included storytelling, crafting, book readings and live music.

In the case of the Mount Pleasant Temporium, the property owner had relocated her very successful clothing store, Nana, from U Street to Mount Pleasant. The Temporium generated buzz for a much less traveled commercial corridor. “It was strategic marketing on her part. People got excited about the new offerings possible along this corridor, and the owner was able to successfully launch the re-opening of her store,” Driggins says. The Nana store opened in the same location immediately after the Temporium closed.

Pop-up trend grows

The success of the first Temporium helped pave the way for the additional pop-ups. The H Street Design Shop + Wifi Lounge transformed a former library into a 1,500-square-foot design shop and event space featuring nearly 20 D.C.-based fashion, art, home decor and jewelry designers selling their creations. The store, which was open for four weekends, welcomed more than 1,600 visitors and generated $11,427 in sales.

The Shaw Main Street’s Garment District Boutique operated from mid-February to mid-March. It featured local fashion and design from 40 local designers, as well as free live music, sewing classes and special events. The Temporium drew more than 1,600 people and generated over $8,400 in total sales.

Planting the seed

From the start, the Office of Planning’s goal was to seed the idea and let the market and the community take over introducing and operating their own Temporiums throughout the city. And the city is already beginning to see some successful spin-offs.

For example, the Adams Morgan Main Street Association launched its own pop-up store, the Very Cherry Pop Up Shop, which opened March 27 on 18th Street NW. The store’s three-week run was scheduled to coincide with the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Similar to the Mount Pleasant Temporium, the Very Cherry Pop Up Shop was a showcase for local indie businesses and offered arts, crafts, workshops and entertainment. A privately sponsored pop-up, Vitamin Water uncapped LIVE: DC, opened in May. It featured a month of music, action sports, fashion, art and film events in the 2200 block of 14th Street NW.

“Ours was never meant to be a long-standing program. Our intent was to provide grants to get the program off the ground and show people what was possible, and we have been successful in that,” Driggins says.

Beth Mattson-Teig

Beth Mattson-Teig is a freelance business writer based in Minneapolis, Minn. She specializes in covering the national commercial real estate industry.

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