Pop-up retail gains favor in D.C. with Garment District, Mount Pleasant Temporium

March 6, 2011

There was no certainty that the Temporium, a temporary “pop-up” retail boutique featuring 17 local designers, would take off when it launched in July at 13th and H streets NE.

Not only did it, well, pop up during the dog days of summer, one of the slowest sales periods for retail, but the concept of opening a store for a few weeks was pretty much unheard of in these parts. Over four weekends, however, the Temporium welcomed 1,616 visitors and pocketed $11,427 in sales after taxes.

That success has spawned two more temporary stores now open in the Mount Pleasant and Shaw neighborhoods of the District. Like their predecessor, the new boutiques are an outgrowth of the D.C. Office of Planning’s Temporary Urbanism initiative to transform vacant commercial space into lively destinations that highlight the retail potential in emerging neighborhoods.

Though sales tax revenue is the only direct economic benefit for the city, Tanya Washington, chief of staff at the Office of Planning, considers the project a “win-win for everybody.”

“It’s activating these vacant spaces, bringing potential customers to the other businesses located near the Temporiums, and it’s a great venue for artists and designers to display their work,” she said.

The city awarded Mount Pleasant Main Street and Shaw Main Streets, nonprofit commercial revitalization groups, $15,000 a piece. Artisans must contribute 15 to 20 percent of their earnings, which is pooled with the grant money, to operate the stores.

About 40 designers and artists are featured at the Garment District, the Shaw store, at 1005 Seventh St. NW. The 10,000-square-foot space, owned by developer Douglas Jemal, has been used as campaign headquarters for D.C. Council member Jack Evans and former mayor Anthony Williams.

“Hopefully, there will be a restaurateur or retailer that will see the space in use and realize that it would be a great location for a business,” said Alexander M. Padro, executive director of Shaw Main Streets. “As is, this is a vibrant corridor.”

Padro partnered with Singa, a design training program in the District, to find vendors. To drum up interest, the organizers are offering more than two dozen free sewing classes until the store closes March 20. Local bands such as Cigarbox Planetarium will also perform.

Organizers of the Mount Pleasant Temporium, at 3068 Mount Pleasant St. NW, also have a full roster of events to draw visitors, including a series of storytelling events hosted by SpeakeasyDC and workshops run by Hello Craft.

At 900 square feet, the store, featuring 34 vendors, is a fraction of the size of its counterpart. Still, the boutique, scheduled to run through Sunday, rustled up some 2,000 visitors in its first weekend of operation.

At this rate, project manager Jessica Scheuerman anticipates the store will surpass the sales at the H Street Temporium. Scheuerman, who wrote the grant proposal as the economic development chair of Mount Pleasant Main Street, said the store reached its projected sales goal, which she would not disclose, within the first 10 days of operation.

That kind of public response is more than Philippa P.B. Hughes, founder of the Pink Line Project, envisioned in championing the Temporium concept and launching the H Street site.

A local cultural maven, Hughes aimed to create a viable business model for artisans to sell their wares, expand their brands and get new customers.

Thanks to the retail project, designer Dana Ayanna Greaves of Artistic Aya was inspired to open her own store in Georgetown.

“People are energized by doing these temporary, cool, creative projects,” Hughes said. “It spurs interest and gets people thinking about what's out there. All of these things contribute to economic development.”

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