“Pop-Up” retail, the use of short-term sales space to house retailers in connection with a trendy seasonal or up-and-coming product has increased in popularity over the last several years. Target, Nike, Google and Microsoft are recent examples of retailers who have successfully opened pop-up shops. Recently, the concept of the pop-up shop has expanded beyond its common application as a temporary space housing a trendy or seasonal product. Pop-ups are now a method of providing transitional retail in connection with real estate development and rehabilitation.
Governmental authorities often view the provision of community-serving retail as an essential component of a development project. If retail shopping and services are not provided near a development, the project may lack vibrancy, leaving residents and users to seek services outside the project. Developments without retail are found to be less sustainable and less pedestrian oriented, forcing a reliance on automobiles and the resulting increase in traffic to fulfill basic retail needs.

A retail component within a development project is often a condition in obtaining necessary government entitlements and approvals. Although desirable, permanent retail is not always achievable during the initial phases of a project. Pop-up retail can serve a temporary purpose, providing services until more permanent improvements are constructed.

Proposed real estate development in Fairfax County, Virginia provides an example. The expansion of the Metro Silver Line is viewed by local planners as the first step in a multi-billion-dollar make-over of Tysons Corner from a sprawling suburb into a walkable and vibrant urban center. The Greensboro Metro Station is estimated to attract as many as 17,000 daily commuters at completion. The first phase of the Silver Line is projected to open soon, but much of what local leaders envision for the surrounding areas, including high-rise apartments and walkable retail and dining, will not come into existence for several years. Pop-up development is being viewed as the solution for providing services to large numbers of daily commuters and visitors alike. Pop-ups have been identified by the chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as a way to provide vibrancy while development in Tysons Corner evolves. Long-term plans surrounding the Silver Line’s Greensboro Station include hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space and specialty retailing, with room for hospitality and restaurant concepts. But until such development is complete, the area is contemplated to include pop-up retail in the form of tastefully appointed and well-maintained shipping containers. Pop-up retail is expected to house small retailers such as designers, cafes and other service providers.

Pop-up retail is not just relevant in a new development context. It is also being viewed by local governments as a revitalization and redevelopment solution to the problem of vacant spaces lining city streets. Take, for example, Downtown Pittsburgh. In order to address the issue of empty storefronts and buildings in the face of new development and infrastructure projects, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the City of Pittsburgh and other stakeholders came together to create “Project Pop Up”.
Project Pop Up was created to bring life and visitors to vacant spaces throughout Downtown Pittsburgh. The results of the project have been promising. The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership indicates that some ‘Pop Up’ businesses opened under the Project have now signed longer-term leases for their spaces.

Detroit is also seeing a rise in pop-up shops in connection with the issue of vacant streetscapes. Several business-development groups have devoted resources to the creation of temporary shops as a revitalization tool, with the hopes that the businesses housed in temporary shops will become successful and permanent.

Pop-up retail entices people to a location by creating a sense of place. It provides services to retail customers and diners until permanent establishments are possible, revitalizing urban areas by transforming vacant commercial space into active locations. Attorneys assisting clients with preparation of a development plan, proffers or development conditions associated with the entitlement process may wish to explore the role pop-up retail can play in such development. Attorneys can also assist clients with the issues and considerations surrounding the leasing or licensing of these temporary retail spaces.

The pop-up presents a unique opportunity to breathe life into a development project until more permanent retail facilities are established. What was once thought useful for only seasonal retail is now seen as a valuable tool in real estate development.