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Pop-Up Stores add Buzz to Maine’s Downtowns

By Gigi Guyton, Women, Work, and Community
Special to the Bangor Daily News

Microsoft’s launch of 32 pop-up stores this holiday season demonstrates that even the big retailers are looking for ways to stand out in an inconsistent consumer climate. But you don’t have to be a Microsoft to have a pop-up store of your own.
Pop-up stores are temporary retail outlets that spring up in empty retail settings. You can take advantage of this type of retail experience, especially if you have an organization like Heart of Biddeford behind you.
Heart of Biddeford is a downtown revitalization organization of volunteers with a mission to create a family-friendly downtown atmosphere. They do this by helping pop-up stores fill empty downtown retail spaces by collaborating with the city, downtown businesses, property owners and community members. Heart of Biddeford’s director, Delilah Poupore, says pop-ups have multiple benefits.
“They give business owners a chance to advertise in a unique, hands-on manner; and they give these same businesses a chance to test-drive a market or location,” she said. “They also can give high school and college students leadership and hands-on business experience.”
Heart of Biddeford has helped three pop-ups get started in downtown Biddeford. Poupore says successful pop-ups require innovative entrepreneurs who can act quickly and not be shy about jumping right into a new community. “I have found it particularly helpful to have students involved,” she said. “Maybe their youth makes them natural innovators or maybe we’ve just had the benefit of working with young people who think creatively. I think student involvement has drawn more attention to these projects.”
Lauren Helliwell, owner of Restless Threads on the outskirts of Saco, tried the downtown Biddeford pop-up experience this past August. She had UNE student Matt Buonopane fulfill his internship running her pop-up shop. That month, she tripled her sales and increased her customer base.
With her existing Saco store just five minutes from the Biddeford pop-up, Helliwell had the opportunity to draw more people to her permanent location. “Every week customers would come to my Saco location from the Biddeford store and say, ‘We just found out about you,’ and I’ve been here a year and a half,” she said. “I think I gained probably about 30 or 40 more Facebook followers.”
Her experience was so helpful that she has established a pop-up store in Biddeford for the holiday season. This time she’s working with other retailers, and again with Heart of Biddeford’s help.
“This holiday season, we are assisting Girl Gone Restless,” Poupore said. “This is a combination of Restless Threads, A Girl Gone Wine, and several other small businesses. They are collaborating with Linda Verville’s retail management class at Biddeford’s Center of Technology. These students are helping out in the store as well as doing the storefront designs.”
Helliwell adds that her storefront design is a collaboration between the students; Carolina, owner of A Girl Gone Wine, based in Raymond; herself, and local artist Celeste Millette.
Pop-ups also bring something temporary and splashy to a downtown. And because shoppers know the businesses will be there only a limited time, pop-up stores can create quite a local buzz.
Heart of Biddeford has been instrumental in helping negotiate lease agreements with property owners who understand what a pop-up is trying to accomplish. Often the property owners will offer space at a reduced rate for the short time period.
“It is a great opportunity,” Helliwell said. “It’s a lot of work for sure, but it is worth it. You have to get out there and try to market your business to figure out what’s going to work and what’s going to keep you going.”
For retailers like Helliwell and Microsoft, pop-ups are the temporary answer.
And Biddeford isn’t the only location you’ll find these temporary shopping spots. Gardiner Main Street has been instrumental in getting three, possibly four, pop-ups off the ground this holiday season. Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, says his organization’s job now is to lure shoppers.

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