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Building Entrepreneurial Communities

The Power of Pop-up Shops

"Create a culture of entrepreneurship – an ecosystem in which startup and job growth can thrive. America is loaded with talent. It has always been our greatest strength. And that talent is spread across the county – in rural areas as well as urban." Macke (2018)

Everyone has read about brick & mortar retail stores failing in recent months. Many of the major chains are seeing falling sales and stock prices as Amazon and other on-line shopping sites are winning their customers' attention. Simultaneously, downtowns in rural areas continue to struggle with vacant brick and mortar storefronts. If large retailers are struggling, how do rural communities even hope to attract retail opportunities for their residents?

According to several experts, retail is not just about having the opportunity to purchase product. It is about creating a shopping experience. This is true whether the retailer is a large chain or a small brick & mortar shop in downtown USA. In an article written by Chris Walton for in January 2019, his advice to Victoria Secret was "the secret is it is about the experience and not the product." A unique shopping experience seems to be the only thing that will lure consumers away from their laptops.

So again, I pose the question, if large chains cannot attract retailers and their customers, how can a small rural community or micropolitan city with a population between 10,000 and 50,000? My suggestion is pop-ups.

"Whether it is called temporary retail, flash retailing, a pop-up store, or a pop-up shop, it is all one and the same." According to (2016), the pop-up concept "was introduced in large urban cities in the 1990s. Art, fashion, tech gadgets and food have been sold from these short-term stores that are as creative as they are engaging." However, would a concept like this work in a micropolitan city in southern Illinois for instance?

For several years now, I have taught a workshop called Developing a Creative Economy and the pop-up shop is a concept I encourage both large and small communities to try. One of the steps for communities wanting to develop a creative economy is to concentrate on building new markets and distribution channels to allow the creative to sell their product. (Howkins 2013) The pop-up shop concept is a perfect place to start.

Note: Pam Schallhorn will be presenting Developing a Creative Economy via a live webinar on March 14, 2019 from noon to 1pm as part of Illinois Extension's Local Government Education series. Register at

However, do not get caught up thinking you have to create a permanent event or space for pop-ups to set up. John Howkins, author of The Creative Economy suggests communities interested in attracting creative entrepreneurs to focus on providing "informal grass roots, street-level, pop-up micro-activities, each may be short-lived, but which adds up to a continuous stream of events and experiences…which sharpen the producers' and makers' skills and buyers' appetites."

So does the pop-up shop concept work in micropolitan cities? My answer is yes. Since Small Business Saturday on Nov. 25, 2018 until last Saturday, January 25, 2019 I have been attending pop-up events across south-central Illinois where I work as a Community and Economic Development Educator for University of Illinois Extension. Here is a peak at what folks are doing to bring retail to their communities.

Centralia, IL (pop. 12,452)

Marcus Holland, Executive Director of the Centralia Chamber of Commerce decided to try to expand the community's Small Business Saturday event in 2018 by encouraging a local winery to open a pop-up shop in a vacant building on Broadway St. in the downtown. The Crooked Creek Winery pop-up was a central point for the #shopcentralia event and was a success for both community members and the vendor.  The winery is owned by Shannon Cooney and Mindy Kuhl Cooney.  The two participated in both the Small Business Saturday and Downtown Christmas Stroll in Centralia.

Having worked with pop-ups in the Rockford City Market in Rockford between 2010 and 2014, my research shows that where pop-ups initially set-up, is generally where the business owners will locate once they decide to do a brick & mortar build-out. Another great reason to get people to set up pop-up shops in your vacant buildings.

While I am on the subject of the Rockford City Market, if anyone is interested in the economic impact of a twenty-week event primarily made up of pop-up vendors, here it is. The Rockford City Market started in May 2010 experienced a 430% increase in attendance in just 6 years (now 60,000 attend each year) while generating a record $5.3 million in spending on market nights throughout its season. (McDermott 2017) Rockford has a population of 150,000 but the market is a great example of the economic benefit of using pop-ups. The first year, restaurant owners in the downtown said they doubled their sales on market nights.

Mt Vernon, IL (pop. 14,956)

The owner of the newly renovated Granada Theater, Russell Brown and event manager, Sandy Sinnett held a pop-up event on Small Business Saturday in 2018. The owner of one of the downtown brick & mortar businesses indicated that the downtown event the year before was "crickets", but the pop-up event brought well over a hundred people to the downtown for the day. Another nice feature of the Granada's event was Humphrey's bar next-door that was open during the event. Also, note this is a great idea if your community is trying to find ways to re-use old theaters in a downtown.

Greenville, IL (pop. 6,761)

Pop-up shops are nothing new in Greenville, IL. Even their local financial institutions make room for pop-up vendors during special events the city sponsors throughout the year. Greenville, which is home to Greenville University, is especially interested in supporting and promoting their creative entrepreneurs. Within the last year, the community has attracted two art galleries into their downtown. You can find additional information on shopping in Greenville, IL on their Creative BOCO Facebook page.

Centralia, IL (pop. 12,452)

If your community is lucky, you will have a couple of highly motivated female entrepreneurs like Jessiycka Nix-Coleman, owner of inspire4u marketing and Rae Ann Quidgeon, owner of Rail Coffee Room. These talented women are ready to take the pop-up experience to the next level. The two worked together to develop the Coffee & Things Pop-up Market inside of Rail Coffee Room on Jan. 26, 2019. Jessiycka said their goal is "to bring in new businesses while supporting local businesses". They were able to include five pop-up shops. The place was packed on a cold Saturday in downtown Centralia, IL, but when I asked a woman in her late 70's if she was enjoying the event she said "I'm having a ball shopping!"

The shops included Selah Inspired with her hand-painted inspirational pieces, Trios Boutique from Jackson, MO whose owners made the 2-hour trip to sell their trendy women's fashions. Trios Boutique is actually an on-line shop, but "love attending pop-up events because they get to meet new people and get new business." Other vendors included Terri Mearns with Park Lane Jewelry and Annette Kendall with Cakes and More.

Jessiycka Nix-Coleman has been working diligently to find unique retailers that she and Rae Ann can add to future pop-up experiences. They have also been helping the City find vendors for special events. The pair plan to hold a pop-up market each month at the location.

Are you inspired yet? I hope so. Not only are pop-up events, like the ones described here, good for your downtown and community they are a great way for small businesses to start up. First, they help small businesses to connect with new customers. Pop-ups build consumer awareness by going off-line, and both consumers and the media love the excitement. In addition, a pop-up is 80% cheaper to start than a traditional retail store; and finally, they allow business owners to test new markets and launch new products before making the plunge into a brick & mortar storefront. ( 2016)

Because they are "temporary", there is less risk of financial loss to both the business owner and the community. Pop-ups are good for the community, good for other local businesses and good for the small business owner. Sort of a win-win-win!

February 1, 2019

Pam Schallhorn, CED Educator

University of Illinois Extension

Photo is used with permission:  R-L Glenda Heiden, Misti Laws & Taylor Laws of The Trios Boutique an on-line shop from Jackson MO


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Williams, R., (2017), Round Up: How to Grow a Vibrant Community of Entrepreneurs in Rural America,

Storefront Magazine, (2016), What exactly is a Pop-up Shop?

Population data estimates 2017, U.S. Census,

Walton, C. (2018), Candid Retail Predictions for 2019, Forbes Magazine,

Howkins, John (2001; 2nd Edition, 2013), The Creative Economy, Penguin Books, U.K

Macke, D (2018) Spurring Entrepreneurship Starts by Talking with Talent, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship Feb. 14, 2018, Lincoln, NE.