Local artists and shopkeepers are putting out a vibe they hope shoppers will pick up at their new pop-up store.
The Charlottesville Dress Company and Downtown Mall stores Boutique-Boutique and The Shoe Store Next Door are joining with area artists in creating the curated fashion collection at the Artful Living pop-up storefront at the Shops at Stonefield.
The store, which opened March 7, will have a three-month run and feature mostly local and American designs, from locally made clothing to designer shoes, while its walls are serving as an art gallery for displays from area artists.
The gallery will change displays monthly as part of Charlottesville’s First Fridays art celebration up to its May 31 closing date.
“We’ll have a wide variety of offerings with clothes made of hemp from our local team, beautiful art work and pottery, jewelry and shoes and furniture,” said Susan Stimart, of the Charlottesville Dress Company. “You could call it a lifestyle store because you don’t often see local area stores that sell clothes, art, furniture and shoes.”
The Charlottesville Dress Company offers its wares primarily online. It was created to help bring income to local refugee families resettled through the International Rescue Committee. For the Artful Living pop-up store, the company has created the Vita James collection, which consists of clothing designed and manufactured locally by El Salvadorian, Iranian, Afghani and Syrian refugees.
“They’re talented, they’re professional and they’re quick, and that makes a big difference. They’re also here through the IRC and this gives them a chance to earn money at home,” Stimart said. “That allows them to earn money while they save on vehicle expenses and child care. We pay a fair wage and keep the prices competitive.”
Boutique-Boutique is offering clothing from several American designers and The Shoe Store Next Door provides the footwear selection.
Artful Living also features paintings, ceramics, woodworking and jewelry.
The pop-up store, a storefront that remains open for a limited amount of time, is an old idea that’s become new again with the slow demise of national chain stores and the birth of online retailing.
The format of a temporary storefront hearkens back a few centuries to traveling merchants in wagons.
According to a study for Storefront.com, conducted by the University of South Carolina Department of Retailing, 80% of retailers who used the temporary storefront format said it was a success and 58% said they would do it again.
According to a study by Ryerson University, a public research university in Toronto, the recent return to temporary retailing started earlier in this century as retailers and brand manufacturers looked for new ways to build brand and product awareness as more and more shoppers turned to the internet.
The strategy, the study showed, allows retailers to learn directly from customers about new products, reach new consumers and build new or stronger relationships with customers.
The short-term storefront also gives retailers a chance to save money on communications costs, reduce the risk of product failure and test locations for possible permanent storefronts.
Those are good reasons for Artful Living to pop up, Stimart said.
“We’re only here for three months. We’ll get a lot of market feedback and give our designers some exposure, find out what people are interested in or if they are interested,” she said. “It’s really about testing the concept and making relationships.”
For Boutique-Boutique’s Noelle Chasse, it’s also about testing new locations.
“I’ve been in business about 18 years and have always been centered in downtown. I wanted to experience what shoppers were like in other areas of town,” she said.
“The Downtown Mall is really a tourist attraction. People from in town think the parking is difficult and it’s hard to get around, even if it isn’t, so they don’t come down just to shop,” she said. “If you’re a tourist, when you come into town, you want to see Monticello, you want to see the University of Virginia and you want to come down to the Downtown Mall and shop.”
Chasse said that is changing as some attractions disappear and more multi-story office and technology centers open.
“It’s all changing. Tourists still come to the mall, but it’s more about being a place to eat,” she said. “For every shop that leaves the mall, an office or tech business moves in and there are fewer places to shop. It’s changing the landscape.”
Chasse said the pop-up will help her to gauge customer response off the Downtown Mall, as well as give the store’s wares a new audience. Stimart agreed.
“A pop-up is a great way to gauge the market, to see if an idea hits and if there’s a good fit with what we’re offering, the location and the customers,” she said.