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Block 37 Searches for the Next Great Pop-Up Shop

The winner of the competition will receive two months free rent in the mall at State and Randolph.

Photo courtesy Block 37

The pop-up shop is a trendy, low-risk concept with all the fizz and instant gratification of a really great glass of champagne. You don’t need a brick-and-mortar budget, a terrifying five-year lease, or enough manpower to refurbish the hardwood floors—you’re only there for a couple of weeks, after all.

Lately, though, pop-up shops have been showing off a flashier side. Major brands and cultural icons have latched on to the concept as a way to flaunt their wares for a tantalizingly short period of time, and these mega pop-ups feel more like flash sales than the crafty little showrooms of days past. Take Kanye West’s “Yeezus Tour” pop-up store in Melbourne, or the In-N-Out pop-up in Toronto, which sold out before it ever opened. Even “Central Perk,” the imaginary coffee shop from Friends, is temporarily becoming real in SoHo—using the pop-up model, of course. With names like these hopping on the pop-up train, do indie retailers still have a chance?

Yes, but they’ve got to fight each other for it. This fall, Block 37 has decided to host the search for Chicago’s next great pop-up shop, making the concept more of a low-risk investment than ever. The prize? Free rent for two months, $2,500 to spend on the store, and plenty of marketing support. It’s a chance for the indie-est of the indie to share retail space with brands like Anthropologie and Eileen Fisher. But like any good YA fanatic knows, there can only be one winner, and that winner had better be cool.

Fledgling brands who don’t win the Block 37 lottery should turn local if they want to showcase their wares and still pay the rent. Take the upcoming Indie Wed pop-up event (September 27-28), where designers will present their eco-friendly and alternative gowns at a brand-new space in Humboldt Park called The Living Room. Sure, there’s no convenient Anthropologie spillover in Humboldt Park, but spaces like The Living Room are affordable enough for indie retailers who may be gradually shoved out of the Kanye- and burger-saturated pop-up market. And the hyper-local cred is a nice touch. Isn’t that what pop-up shops used to be about, anyway?

Small Chicago retailers know that it can be difficult to sustain a business in this city, as they struggle to hold their own against mega-retailers, e-commerce, and the occasional freak of nature like last year’s Polar Vortex. The pop-up shop is a temporary way to bypass all of that, and it’s an extremely important model for preserving small brands, artists, and innovative weirdos—as long as it stays indie enough for the indie entrepreneurs to afford it.

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