A couple days ago, I waxed philosophically on the subject of “Pop-ups”. I was into my third cup of coffee, and I was riding that caffeinated wave all over social media, posting polls and sharing events and recording a 5 minute diatribe, all on the importance of Pop-Ups, and did you know?
But many of you didn’t know because I had neglected to explain what a Pop-Up was. I had just assumed that everyone understood what I was talking about because, well, don’t you always know what I’m talking about? Rookie mistake.
So here I am, to right this wrong. For starters, for that person that thought a Pop-Up is one of those frozen treats in a cardboard tube with a stick in the bottom that inevitably will melt before you finish it and make a mess everywhere...that’s not the kind I’m talking about. Besides, I prefer ice cream sandwiches.
With that out of the way, what I’m referring to when I say “Pop-Up” are the temporary markets that you’ve likely been to around the holidays. More event than place, they are curated with artists and vendors who offer local and handmade items, and it can last an evening or much, much longer. Usually, there are performances to engage visitors while they peruse the various vendor tables, and opportunities to drink and eat to give people a reason to stick around. Often, these events are family-friendly and offer something for children and adults alike.
These markets seem to have grown in popularity over the years, but they’re by no means a new concept. A quick Wiki search reveals that “Pop-Up Retail” dates back at least to 1298 to a Christmas Market in Vienna, and gained popularity in the US in the late 90’s when big brands started to use Pop-Ups to create experiences to promote their products.
Pop-Ups aren’t just advertising tools for major retailers though. Communities have begun using them to activate places and support small businesses. The Palafox Market in Downtown Pensacola is an example that most in my hometown would be familiar with, but many may not recall that a version of it started more than a decade ago at the corner of Main and Palafox where Bank of Pensacola sits now.
It was organized by private interests at an intersection that was hardly the vibrant version it is today. A vacant lot surrounded by vacant buildings, vendors brought folding tables and tents to sell their produce or crafts. It started small, but grew in popularity, and eventually the Downtown Improvement Board of Pensacola took on organizing and supporting the market. Once the DIB took on management of the market, it would find a new home in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza where it operates today, every Saturday.
The market’s presence at it’s initial location wasn’t solely responsible for the revitalization of the intersection of Main and Palafox, but it’s hard to argue that it didn’t play a role in bringing people BACK to that part of the city. Now, the Bodacious Shops, Carmen’s Lunch Bar, Volume One, The Ruby Slipper, Nom Sushi Izakaya, and numerous other shops and restaurants exist within sight of the early iteration of the Palafox Market.
That’s a mighty consequence to something as simple as someone hawking their locally-made hot sauce or hand blown glass pumpkins. Then again, there’s a lot more going on below the surface, and that’s the real power of a Pop-Up - the people.
To listen to more of my thoughts on Pop-Ups among other things, here's a video I shared to my Instagram, @bigcityjunior.