The Power Of The Pop-Up Storefront

Amid the prolonged economic downturn, Main Streets the world over are dealing with empty-shop syndrome. This is a struggle—but also an opportunity for reinvention. 

Enter groups like Oakland’s Popuphood and the U.K.’s 3Space. Both inventively offer free retail venues in unoccupied spaces for local businesses looking to creatively express new ideas. Oakland’s group works with many types of retail businesses, while 3Space works solely with registered nonprofits. Both bring positive energy in to the communities involved. 

Supporting Communities in Reinvention 

Successful reinvention requires engagement from both top-down establishment and grassroots activists work in concert for the common goal of regeneration. Pop-up models allow creative leadership to emerge from various camps when needed, sharing in both the costs, the work, and the glory. 

Some common benefits of pop-up locations are:

1. Town centers are re-energized, so vital when many commercial buildings are vacant and interest in the communities has waned.

2. Retailers are given a low-cost opportunity to test out new ideas, innovations, or projects, supporting the cultural creative energy of a community in a low-risk way.

3. Participants working in close proximity can make use of co-working and resource sharing.

4. Social, cause-based enterprises, and nonprofit organizations benefit from a boost at a time when funding is cut and community centers are closing.

5. The physical spaces themselves are revamped, attracting new tenants while improving the areas as a whole.

Turning Empty Property Into Opportunity 

Henry Mason and Andrew Cribb founded 3Space, a pop-up style retail enrichment venture that focuses on socially innovative endeavors. As a registered nonprofit, 3Space takes over disused commercial properties across the U.K. and makes them available to other nonprofits and their temporary activities.

We asked Alice Vaughan, one of the team members in London, about her involvement with 3Space:

JODY TURNER: How did 3Space begin?

ALICE VAUGHAN: 3Space was born from a collaboration between Henry Mason and Andrew Cribb. An accountant at the time, Henry had seen the difficulties facing nonprofit organizations as they attempted to make use of empty spaces. Meanwhile, Andrew was a qualified urban planner who had worked at the London Development Agency, fully behind the regeneration benefits of vacant building us. Once they combined their abilities and resources they discovered that there was an innovative way to facilitate these types of pop-up ventures. The real trigger was the combination of Henry and Andrew’s experiences, the knowledge they both had of the sector and the problems they were facing. They focused on win-win-win solutions for the non-profit organizations, landlords, and local councils. The outcome was 3Space.

Can you share some of your success stories?

The fantastic thing about our spaces is that they are all so different that they attract a really diverse selection of organizations and projects. We have a huge empty shop in Manchester, which is currently being used by a community group called The Circus House. The Circus House runs circus skills workshops for adults and children of all abilities. They have completely transformed the space, and at the same time created a hub where people from across the city can meet to participate in workshops and meet likeminded others.

Another great success story is a community group called NW Baseline, based in Blackpool. Although they are primarily a graphics agency, they run free workshops for young people during the school holidays, offering them a safe and engaging environment in which to spend their time creating instead of gathering in the town center. Past workshops have included photography, graphic design, DJing, and breakdancing. They have also run a project to design an anti knife-crime advertising campaign. Offering NW Baseline our empty shop allows them to focus their resources on providing the best possible service to these young people, which in turn benefits the whole community.

What has the benefit been to the neighborhoods you are engaged with? Do you think other neighborhoods could apply this model? Have you thought of scaling it?

We currently have 30 properties based across the U.K., and as we continue to grow we’re beginning to take on numerous spaces within the same areas. Projects like the Meanwhile Project and The Empty Shops Network have been championing this kind of use for years and it continues to grow.

We’re confident that temporary projects can be replicated in any community across the globe. We regularly receive emails from people in other countries who want to find out more, and even offer us their empty premises!

We’ve seen projects taking place in shops that have been empty for years suddenly attracting hundreds of people to an event. This in turn draws people to the surrounding area, and reminds communities of the reasons why we used to use our town centers—to engage with local businesses, services, and most importantly, each other. 

You mentioned in an earlier conversation that cross sharing has occurred with the organizations you have provided space for. 

As well as making empty shop units available, we also run a number of community office hubs here in London. We took over an old office building in Finchley, North London; seven charities and community groups are now using it. Each organization has its own office space, as well as access to a number of communal facilities, such as a large meeting room and a huge workshop space. I visited the space a few weeks ago, and found that the organizations were not only sharing equipment and resources, but had also started running a number of joint projects and workshops. It was clear that their limited funds were being used to benefit a greater number of people, and in turn each organization was able to raise its profile and reach new audiences.

One charity, TEACH Africa, was originally based in Cardiff, Wales. They were struggling to run their operations with a small team of four people. Since moving to the office hub in Finchley, they have expanded operations and taken on more staff, now employing almost 40 staff and volunteers. They are now able to plan more ambitious projects and services.

The experience with these community hubs has been a fantastic opportunity for us to learn, grow, and extend our reach and effectiveness.

What is the High Street Hijack competition?

High Street Hijack is a competition we ran at the end of last year designed to promote this type of temporary use. We invited cause-based organizations and community groups across the country to submit proposals for pop-up projects with the prize being use of our properties as well as a grant of £1,500 to get their idea off the ground. After narrowing the ideas down to five finalists, we held a public vote via Facebook to find the winner.

The youth music charity Rhythmix won, and in March 2012 they’ll be using our space in Gravesend to hold a series of free music workshops and concerts for vulnerable young people from across the region. We’re really pleased with the positive reaction the competition generated, and we’re excited to see Rhythmix projects develop over the next few months.

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For more 3Space stories please visit the 3Space blog

3Space team member Alice Vaughan has an MA in Art and the Creative Economy and has worked for a diverse set of cultural organizations. Since joining 3Space Alice drives communications and currently manages the High Street Hijack competition.

Author Jody Turner is a future trends strategist who works with companies, conferences, and organizations in bringing forth thriving and relevant futures. Turner is CEO and founder of the global insights group CultureofFuture.com, a trend innovation group working with companies such as BMW, Munich and is associated with Trendwatching.com, London.

[Image: Flickr user Michael Connell]

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