September 12, 2013

New pop-up store opens in Skowhegan

'It’s a space where people can try out their business idea for a day, a weekend, a week, a month.'

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — It’s called a pop-up store, a marketing concept in which a retailer can try out a product or a service for a day, a week or a month.

click image to enlarge

Sarah Smith sits at a desk at the Pickup Cafe in Skowhegan. The concept of the pop-up store is for a prospective retailer to try out the spot for a day, week or month.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Adam Rosario with his son, Mariano, 1, on his back, packages this week's bounty for distribution to members of the Community Supported Agriculture program at the Pickup Cafe and Farmer's Market at the Grist Mill in Skowhegan on Wednesday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Now there’s a pop-up at the Pickup in Skowhegan.

The 150-square-foot storefront is part of the changes at the Somerset Grist Mill, where the community-supported agriculture program has expanded and the Pickup Cafe will begin serving dinner this weekend.

“There is this trend sweeping the nation trying out pop-up stores, which basically means it’s temporary,” grist mill co-owner Amber Lambke said. “It’s a space where people can try out their business idea for a day, a weekend, a week, a month. Communities all across the country are trying this.”

Pop-up stores began in the 1990s in large cities such as Tokyo, London, Los Angeles and New York and soon spread to smaller communities.

In November, a downtown revitalization program in Gardiner offered three vacant storefronts, rent-free, for the holiday season. They called it Project Pop-Up.

The experiment paid off.

One of the businesses that took advantage of the pop-up concept, Pooches Second Hand Shop, ended up staying and renting the store full time, said Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street. One of the other spaces was rented by a salon, partly because of the vacant storefront’s exposure, Wright said.

“I think it was definitely a success,” he said. “The exposure that we got certainly got folks to think about not only shopping downtown for the holiday season, but just getting Gardiner recognition.”

In Biddeford, Delilah Poupore, executive director of Heart of Biddeford, another Main Street Maine program, said the group held a Youth Pop Up Challenge in 2011.

Storefronts offered for one month to high school and college students who took a vacant space and brought life to it, Poupore said.

“While they did that, not only did they draw a whole bunch of people downtown, they also showed the potential of the space,” she said.

Two other pop-ups were established in Biddeford to do test marketing for retail clothing stores. Both spaces ultimately were filled.

Lambke said ideas for a pop-up in Skowhegan could include a crafter, a furniture maker or a small kitchen supply store to test the market without having to rent a storefront for a year.

Lambke said with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, the pop-up could be a holiday store offering specialty goods from the area.

“It’s fun. It’s revolving. It’s meant to keep a lot of things going,” Lambke said.

Rental costs for the Skowhegan pop-up will be $50 a day, $100 a week and $350 a month, Lambke said. She said other pop-up spaces could open up in the various rooms and cellblocks inside the old jail once a new heating and cooling system is installed.

The storefront is in a former jail guard’s office at the county jail, which Lambke and partner Michael Scholz, of Albion, bought in 2009. The former jail is now a grist mill producing whole-grain flour and rolled oats. There is a yarn shop and a technology office offering computer advice.

The pop-up store is attached to the Pickup CSA and the Pickup Cafe.

A CSA program, short for community-supported agriculture, involves customers prepaying for a share of seasonal locally produced food, which is picked up or delivered once a week.

The grist mill and Pickup now have 20 mostly part-time employees in the combined operations, including three owner-employees, plus the farm workers who supply the food for the CSA and the Skowhegan Farmers Market. Several grants have been awarded to the grist mill since 2009, including a $40,000 start-up grant from the Somerset Economic Development Corp.

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