Looks like there’s another “pop” in popular culture: the pop-up shop. For the uninitiated, pop-ups materialize for just a couple of days—or hours—in a temporary space with limited or exclusive access to goods. Pop-up shops have caused frenzies on the coasts, though no established sales have created such a buzz here—until now. ¶ When two vintage-and-thrift-obsessed women decided to declutter their closets, the pop-up shop idea reached the tipping point. Meghan McAndrews and Rae Alexis Danneman hatched Mighty Swell after they met through their blogs, High Plains Thrifter and Bourbon & Lace.
“My expectation was that I would hopefully unload leftover vintage I didn’t want to list on Etsy,” McAndrews says. “I had no idea it would turn into a business of this magnitude. I’ll never forget the first day of our first sale…. Our minds were blown.”
Hordes of local stylistas left the first sale with armloads of clothing and accessories—an unqualified success. Danneman and McAndrews had uncovered a formula: “We always ask ourselves, ‘What would we want to see if we were shopping here?’” Years of thrifting had given them a strong perspective: the ability to pay with plastic, refreshments, good music. So they offered that, plus great merchandising, to help shoppers imagine a piece’s potential.
Kara Kurth, a vintage-fashion lover, had been agonizing over passing up mint pieces because they didn’t fit her size or style, but she had nowhere to offload them. She was impressed by Mighty Swell, so she approached them to vend. “Why reinvent the wheel?” she says. “If you go on the first day in the morning, you can hardly even walk in there.”
Kurth is no stranger to selling vintage. Her husband, Bill Kurth, is the muscle behind Golden Age Design, buying and restoring mid-century and Hollywood Regency pieces on Facebook and Craigslist. Because Bill has little overhead, he’s able to “stick to his philosophy of respecting the design, the era, and preserving that lifestyle through furniture,” he says. “I know what I can afford and most of my customers are working stiffs, so it means a lot to me that I know where it’s going.” He once posted an in-demand credenza on Craigslist for “an extremely low amount,” and within minutes had Chicago dealers salivating. “But I was able to sell it to a guy in Crystal, and that is important to me.” He says he dreams of eventually owning a traditional storefront.
It might seem like a stretch to make the leap from Craigslist sales to retail, but Marie Zellar proves it’s possible. After 20 years in the nonprofit world, Zellar was “feeling a little crispy,” and had been restoring furniture on the side for years. “Everyone will tell you I have a savant-like ability to find designer furniture in the middle of nowhere,” she says. Her partner, Brian Wilcox, encouraged her to make it her living. So she “opened” Marie’s Vintage Modern, an occasional sale hosted at her “scrappy stucco house in Minneapolis.” Business boomed—until police came looking for a license.
“It was a way to wade into starting a business,” she says of Marie’s. “This is a really hard economy to go from zero to storefront.” To get legit with city officials, Marie’s will be reborn into FindFurnish, a giant warehouse where she can restore, photograph, and sell her finds. “These pieces are becoming rarer and rarer, and are sort of the last great movement in craftsmanship and design,” she says. “It’s neat that Facebook and Craigslist made it possible for people who find this stuff and people who want this stuff to come together.”
Pop-ups and occasional sales are resonating with shoppers, because they incorporate shopping’s most heart-pounding moments: the thrill of the hunt; first-come, first-serve attitudes; a limited-time offer; and low pricing. Shop early, shop often, and you might be bragging about your own steals soon.