The Marmite Pop-Up Shop • London 2009

Popping Up All Over The Place

3rd October 2014

Jo Plumridge examines the latest retail phenomenon to hit the local streets

The concept of pop-up shops isn’t new but in the past these cheeky little temporary outlets have often been confined to major global cities – London, New York, Paris – where retail is something of an art form. And, in general, these shops have usually been full of often-unobtainable ‘concept’ pieces and the like. Now, though, the pop-up phenomenon is spreading around the UK. It’s driven by visionary ideas, yes, but it’s also a reaction to the recession, coupled with the ever-increasing costs of renting shop space.

Setting up a pop-up costs far less than setting up a traditional retail shop, so it’s an extremely practical way of testing a potential market, or, indeed, of simply having some fun. Whilst rent and council rates are still payable, many landlords and councils are happy to negotiate rates in order to avoid empty units. And full refits aren’t essential – most pop-up shops open with a lick of paint and a few storage units installed. Of course, there are still fairly strident health and safety guidelines to follow, but this is an accepted part of life in modern day Britain.

Chesham, the town in which I live, has long been a recognised enclave of artistic talent. Since moving here three years ago, I’ve found a wealth of interesting and independent shops spread through the town. But now, pop-up has also arrived in a big way. Not only do we have our first pop-up shop/gallery in the form of Artworks, but there have also been a succession of extremely successful pop-up restaurants. The concept is clearly thriving here so I spoke to several of those involved in these ventures to find out a bit more about what inspired them to get involved.

Artworks showcases work from over 35 local artists. Diana Copeland is one of three artists (along with Tony Moody and Madeleine Fletcher) who came up with the idea of utilising one of the town’s empty shop spaces. The three had previously run an art gallery in West Wycombe and had the first pop-up in Chesham up and running in two weeks, with some help from Louise Hickman, herself an artist and a former marketing consultant to Richard Branson. Diana is justifiably proud of what they achieved in a short space of time, and believes that the shop has done much to increase the footfall of people coming into the town. She would love to see more pop-ups springing up as she thinks, quite rightly in my opinion, that they look far better than empty shops, keeping a High Street alive.

The shop sells a huge variety of products including paintings, cards, jewellery, prints, chairs, bags, scarves, vintage teacups and handmade soaps. Diana herself sells her own collages and paintings, which include town scenes and pet portraits. Prices start from £1, meaning the shop really does offer something for everyone. Over 90% of the artists continually renew their spot and prices are kept as low as possible to encourage the spirit of co-operation rather than competition. All the artists also work on a rota in the shop and a substantial amount of money has been raised for local charities such as the Town Museum and South Bucks Hospice.

Buoyed up by the success of the shop, the group held their first large art exhibition at Chesham Football Club in the spring and are hoping to have a stall at Chesham market one Saturday a month. Artworks has also exhibited at the YMCA in Watford and the group have formed the Chiltern Arts and Crafts Association. And Artworks is far from being in competition with other, more traditional outlets in the area; on the contrary, Diana says that there has been great support for the concept from other shop owners in the town – in fact Peter Hawkes of Laceys Yard Gallery originally sold their artwork and encouraged them to open the pop-up.

Hazel Hopkinson owns Blue Haze, Chesham’s Art and Craft shop, selling supplies and running courses. She, too, is very positive about the addition of Artworks to Chesham High Street, saying that she’d be happy if it was there all the time. She believes that the pop-up shop helps to improve the look of the high street and is needed to fill a gap in the market. Any criticisms? “Only that it’s a shame that a shop such as Artworks needs to be pop-up rather than a permanent”.

Chesham is also home to the hugely popular Temperance Eating House, a pop-up restaurant whose summer run providing high quality European food was very popular. Peter Wright, Alistair Ross and Lynn Hendry decided to set up the restaurant to show potential restaurateurs that there was a demand for places to eat in the town. In Peter’s own words, “None of us had done a pop-up before, but I knew a great chef, Tim Zekki, who had previously been running The Lop Eared Pig, a restaurant set up in an old tractor barn at the local Hazeldene Farm. The Temperance Hall in Old Chesham was the right size, with a decent kitchen and we felt it was a good blank canvas, as well as being central to town.”

It was, of course, a daring venture, but Peter and his colleagues appear to have enjoyed the whole process immensely. “We had great fun with the marketing around the Temperance hall (and its motto of abstinence),” he says. In keeping with its origins, the Temperance Eating House isn’t licensed, although diners can take their own wine. “We wanted the food to not be too ‘safe’, but to also give a degree of choice. The aim was to let Tim be quite experimental and to cook stuff you wouldn’t necessarily get outside of London.”

It was also an opportunity to create something more natural, less polished. “Front of house are all amateurs – it’s part of the character and we didn’t want to employ people with bags of experience. Our first run was last winter, which sold out very quickly and was very successful. Our summer run sold out in four days.”

They intend to do more – “I think we’ll probably stick to autumn, winter and early spring from now on. We may have a different chef or we may work with Tim again, but the style of Temperance will still be European” – but at the time of writing were taking a break. [As we go to press, there are hints on their Facebook page that plans for autumn are soon to be revealed].

They’ve certainly achieved their initial aim. “The main thing we wanted to show is that you can fill a decent eating-place. After all, there are 23,000 people in Chesham. On our second run, though, we had people coming from Berkhamsted to Beaconsfield and even some from London.”

Temperance has inspired several other restaurants in Chesham, including the ‘Secret Supper’ club and a Raw Food pop-up. Peter himself also runs Buryfields, Chesham’s pop-up festival, showcasing contemporary acts and singers.

Pop-up shops have sprung up all over our region and new ones are appearing (and disappearing, such is the nature of the beast) all the time. Space 2 have been putting on pop-up art exhibitions in spaces across Watford for some time now, while cult flip-flop brand Havaianas, recently popped-up in the Intu centre. Two vintage/collectable outlets have recently opened in Berkhamsted, while in Chorleywood the premises of former furniture store Sherations currently house a pop-up market selling food, clothing, traditional sweets and arts and crafts.

The wonderful thing about most pop-ups is that you are buying something unique and helping small businesses and entrepreneurs at the same time. And a pop-up venture offers customers a sense of discovery and something almost improbable happening. In today’s consumer-driven world, pop-ups are a much needed breath of fresh air.

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