Cherry Creek North "Pop-Ups"

Temporary “pop-up” shops in Denver no longer a seasonal phenomena

Friday, December 21, 2018

From Cherry Creek to RiNo, landlords, brands and shoppers embrace the new take on retail space

By JOE RUBINO | | The Denver Post

Specialty shops and markets that open in a flash, sell their wares for a short time, then go into hibernation for 10 to 11 months are a part of the holiday shopping landscape.

For instance, the taste of European Christmas that is the Christkindl Market has been an attraction off the 16th Street Mall for 18 years running.

But pop-up retailers are not just a holiday thing these days. Nor are they confined to special events or outdoor markets.

In today’s shifting retail landscape, “pop-ups” are becoming an increasingly integral part of landlords’ efforts to bring in new, exciting concepts and experiences that lure shoppers. For retailers, short-term leases offer the chance to create buzz and take a low-risk test run through a market.

It’s a trend that’s catching on across Denver.

“If people go shopping, where do they go? They go to Cherry Creek. It was like, ‘Let’s try it and see what happens,’ ” Kristie Basica, store manager and merchandise buyer for The Fall Line, said of the clothing boutique’s decision to open in a vacant storefront in upscale Cherry Creek North district in October.

The Fall Line started in Summit County in the 2001, and later spent 14 years selling brands such as Smartwool, Kuhl and Patagonia in Lakewood’s Belmar district. In its current location at 250 Columbine St., No. 115, the shop is signed up for a six-month lease with a six-month tenant option.

“There is more density. There are more shoppers and Cherry Creek knows how to support small business,” Basica said. “We had our best Small Business Saturday ever this year. Come out and support us and we can stay, stay, stay.”

Western Asset Services, a division of property owner Western Development Group, brought in The Fall Line, choosing a short-term lease with the shop over a long-term lease with an established real estate company. A few blocks away, in Western’s Shops at NorthCreek property, another pop-up, of California-based high-end outdoor and active wear brand Aether Apparel, also opened in October. It’s sticking around until mid February. It’s the first time Western has dabbled in the new trend.

“As the neighborhood continues to change with the addition of more residential and more hotels, the needs of the neighborhood will change so the pop-up concept allows us to roll with that,” Lisa McInroy, Western Asset Services’ vice president of property management, said. “If something doesn’t work, it’s a six-month adventure at worst.”

Aether’s 1,000-square-foot space at 105 Fillmore St. features jackets, pants and other products hanging in up-right travel trunks, something that adds to the impermanent vibe and plays into Aether’s intrepid brand image.

The pop-up concept is in Aether’s bloodstream. The company was founded by former movie producers Jonah Smith and Palmer West in 2009 but didn’t open its first permanent brick-and-mortar store until 2013. It regularly rolls out a 34-foot Airstream trailer full of merchandise to festivals and events where company reps feel they can find potential customers.

Aehter does have a permanent location in Aspen, but its Cherry Creek “outpost” is more a market-testing tool than a local expansion.

“We definitely feel that in today’s marketplace a lot of people really enjoy discovering a brand in person and feeling the product,” Smith, the company’s co-founder, said. “We do a huge percentage of the brand sales online. (Pop-ups) help us acquire customers, then hopefully we keep them as customers online.”

Across town, in Denver’s River North Arts District, pop-up retail is a core component of Zeppelin Development’s Zeppelin Station. The mixed-use office/retail building at 3501 Wazee St. is home to a market hall with an emphasis on food. The space not taken up by food and drink has been dedicated to a revolving pop-up concept called “Made in the City.”

Mathieu Mudie, Zeppelin’s retail director, stocks the market hall space with items sourced from artisans and producers in a specific city for a couple of months. Zeppelin Station first offered items from Mudie’s native Montreal. Now through the end of the year, Portland, Ore., is the city on display. Reykjavik, Iceland, is on tap starting in February with Mexico City beyond that. Visual artists and restaurant concepts from the featured city will also be part of the mix in 2019.

“The brands we’re bringing in are brands that are focused on quality, on how things are made, and where things are made,” said Mudie, a veteran of the fashion and design industries. “I think people really like the concept, actually. Some of them have become regular customers.”

Mudie said Denver is still a relatively young city building new retail space. That provides an opportunity to reshape the market in a way that appeals to modern consumers.

“It’s not as easy as it was. New retail like that is a little more risky,” he said. “You have to be more creative and more experimental with retail.”

Dana McFadden