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Pop-up shop program gives shoppers chance to find unique gifts

By Jessica Kuhn

CSBJ Staff Writer

A Colorado Springs native and her 15-year-old dog, Kaly, are among several new faces greeting shoppers downtown this holiday season.

Michele Osborne recently opened her pop-up shop, Art&Article, next to Iron Bird Brewing Company on East Costilla Street. The home goods and lifestyle store has been operating for six years online and features designer pieces from around the world, including Japan and Scandinavia.

“Pop-up shops are a really great way to test if there is a market for your business to have an actual store,” Osborne said. “There is not a store like ours downtown really, and I wasn’t sure if it didn’t exist because there is no market for it. But I really feel like downtown is going through an exciting shift right now where they are really trying to add more unique types of stores and kind of diversify things.”

The downtown Holiday Pop-up Shop program can offer digital retailers, such as Osborne, an opportunity to test out selling products in a physical environment, said Sarah Humbargar, vice president of development services for Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs.    

“The call for applications is open to any type of retailer,” she said. “We’ve had everything from galleries to little artisan markets to clothing stores participate over the years.”

Launched in 2014, applicants apply for a pop-up shop each year and then a committee determines which concepts will become operational businesses that holiday season.

“If they are selected, we work with them to find the right space and then meet directly with the landlord and them,” Humbargar said. “The landlord agrees to take 50 percent of their monthly rent from the applicant and then 50 percent is covered through the Downtown Development Authority as a grant.”

The leases are for two months, November and December, but the goal of the program is to have participants extend their leases beyond that.

“The program tends to work very well for a retailer that has a small vendor-type location already at somewhere like Pikes Peak Market,” Humbargar said. “Then it also works really well for online-only retail businesses that are looking to see if it makes sense for them to also go into a store in addition to online.”

Some success stories out of the program include the Rocky Mountain Soap Market, which just expanded into a new location downtown, as well as the newly-opened artisan market, Colorado Handmade, on Tejon Street next to Rooster’s House Of Ramen.

“Colorado Handmade was our only pop-up shop for the last two years,” Humbargar said. “We’ve been in a state of having very little retail space the last couple of years and part of what the program does is it helps fill vacancies and makes sure all of our spaces are really full and vibrant during the holiday season.”

This year, Osborne and Peri Bolts, founder of Eclectic CO, had concepts that were selected to be part of the pop-up shop program.

Eclectic CO is located on Tejon Street across from Acacia Park and is a collective of 24 southern Colorado-based artisans. The boutique-style maker’s market offers a range of handmade goods, including a variety of items crafted from materials bound for the landfill.

“This is intended to be a place that makers or artists can gravitate to that helps reduce barriers to market,” Bolts said.

She said a lot of the artisans also sell their products online either via their own website or an Etsy-like platform.

However, after meeting several of them at a pop-up market event in August, Bolts learned of their desire to have a more permanent physical retail presence but couldn’t because of the overhead cost.

“Overwhelmingly, they were like, ‘I would love to be in a brick-and-mortar store,’ but nobody could afford to do that on their own, especially downtown,” she said.

“Nobody can afford the rent alone. It really takes the collective movement to be able to do operate in a physical store,” Bolts said.

During the shop’s first weekend, all but one artisan made a sale with several already making enough to cover their part of the first month’s rent.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” Bolts said. “I think as the word gets out and as we get closer to the holidays it’s going to be even better. Foot traffic here is fantastic.”

Meanwhile, Osborne said her first weekend started off a “little slower” than she had hoped.

“A lot of the people who have been coming in are coming in because friends told them to stop by or they heard about us through the Downtown Partnership,” she said. “But outside of that, it’s just been passersby and there is just not a lot of foot traffic on this block. That’s a little bit of a downer, but I do think we are a destination store, so I think that it will work out once people learn about us.”

Osborne also opened the shop to help connect the Springs to designers from across the world, she said. “I wanted to bring something new to downtown. We carry several international designers and ones from throughout the country.”

Both of the pop-up owners expressed interest in seeing their concepts become permanent downtown fixtures.

“We intend to be a full-time space after December it just remains to be seen if we can afford to stay here or if we have to relocate somewhere else downtown,” Bolts said. “We really intend to power through though and really feel this space is perfect for us.”

While Osborne also is hopeful to remain downtown, she isn’t ready to make that decision, she said.

“It’s kind of hard to tell at this point after only being open a weekend,” she said. “Plus, this is during the holidays, so it’s not an accurate gauge of what business is like during the entire year. But if things go well, I would really love to stay.”

And if that happens, Osborne said her next move would be hiring employees.

“Right now, it’s just me and I am open seven days a week,” she said. “I definitely will need some help if I stay past December.”

Pop-up shop program gives shoppers chance to find unique gifts
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