By Ellen Frankman
A pop-up store is by its very nature temporary. Global brands export their beachy offspring to Main Streets across nearly every town on the East End, arriving in time to throw a Memorial Day launch party and packing their racks up by Labor Day.
Pop-ups fill vacant spaces and allow sellers to get a feel for their reception in an area before making a long-term rental commitment. But on the East End, some say these fleeting storefronts push small business owners out without contributing beyond September to the local economy.
“For the short-term a pop-up could be good because they hire some local employees,” said Micah Schlendorf, president of the Southampton Chamber of Commerce. “But in the long run I don’t think pop-ups are good because they are traditionally a large corporate brand that stays for two or three months and ships the money elsewhere.”
Isaac Mizrahi, C. Wonder and Joe Fresh Hamptons Summer Store are just a few pop-ups to grace Southampton this summer. There’s also a Soulcycle pop-up in Bridgehampton, a Milly in East Hampton and Brooklyn’s Bird has found its way onto quiet little Shelter Island.
“If they are able to come in and spend a larger amount of money on a three month rental as opposed to the whole year it puts a small business at a disadvantage,” said Schlendorf, who explained that as a result small business owners face limited marketing resources while being relegated to less desirable retail locations.
Marina Van, the executive director of the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce, disagrees.
“There are very few mom and pops left here and there are some that still do very well,” said Van. “But when you see empty stores, I’d rather see them filled by something.”
Van explained that some pop-up stores also try a single summer, but end up returning the following season as permanent, seasonal tenants. Van also believes the local economy benefits from having pop-ups employ local teens.
“During the winter, a lot of people go away,” she added. “Truthfully, what I find is that the locals tend to shop in Riverhead.”
“People shop in Riverhead because we have so few stores that are open all the time,” said Stephanie Tekulsky, owner of East Hampton toy and gift shop Steph’s Stuff. It’s one of the few small businesses that have survived the corporate takeover of the town.
Tekulsky says that 30 years ago when she moved to East Hampton, the winters were sleepier, but stores remained open year round.
“Christmas time was exciting,” she recalled. But summer are the bread and butter months for all stores, and if a year-round retailer can’t drum up enough business during the summer season, it’s not likely to survive.
About three months ago, Steph’s Stuff was forced to move due to high rent, but luckily has found a landlord nearby who won’t rent to pop-ups. Tekulsky says the Chamber of Commerce didn’t even notice that her 18-year-old store had moved from Newtown Lane to The Circle until months after the fact.
“The local Chamber of Commerce is no longer sensitive to local businesses,” said Tekulsky, who explained that she refuses to join the Chamber for that very reason. “The way the village looks as soon as the season is over, it’s very sad. There are a lot of people that live here full time.”
But certain measures can still be taken to support the small businesses that sustain local economies through the off-season. As in the case of Tekulsky, smart local retailers can seek out landlords who will not rent to pop-ups.
Some pop-ups are even trying to smooth over their local image with well-intentioned efforts to prop up the local villages they visit.
“Our brand creator Christopher Burch has a house out here,” said John Licciardo, the department manager of C.Wonder in Southampton, a pop-up which has also found a temporary home in East Hampton. “He knows the community and he loves the community.”
According to Licciardo, C. Wonder has played an active role in the community since arriving in the Hamptons two summers ago, working with local charities and in support of Southampton Hospital. Licciardo, who is a local himself, also believes that big brand names like C. Wonder draw more people to the area in general.
“It opens up a broader audience,” he said. “We also refer frequently to local companies if we don’t have a product.” Licciardo says the store also sources from local business for events that offer food and wine. Schmidt’s and the Village Cheese Shop in Southampton are regularly called upon for store gatherings.
Schlendorf also believes that small business owners can try to work the pop-up phenomenon to their advantage.
“Stores that thought they might be at a disadvantage can reinvent themselves, offer new products at lower prices and show that their service may be better than what you find at that corporately owned alternative,” said Schlendorf, who agreed that a popular brand name store may result in more people strolling through Main Street and visiting other shops.
“A large corporation might not lower their prices enough for the year-round population because they are looking at things across a national market,” he added. “But I think local residents in the Hamptons look to support local businesses.”
In Sag Harbor Village, Chamber of Commerce President Kelly Connaughton noted pop up stores have yet to become an issue.
“Thankfully, any empty storefronts have been taken over,” she said. “We have one pop up – Local Knit – but it is in a space that was without retail. It’s been nice, bringing extra traffic into the village and it does partner with other local businesses to sell its t-shirts.”