A city councilmember from a town in Washington told me she was so excited about the idea of pop-up businesses that she brought up the idea of short-term 3 month leases with some building owners. They keel hauled her, she said. She just couldn’t get them to be as excited as she was and it ended up being adversarial.
Like most things that involve change, it’s best to offer people small steps they can take. Here are practical suggestions to get owners of downtown buildings to try something new and different. Most of these work whether you’re part of a group trying to create a city-wide project or it’s just you wanting to do your own pop-up.
Start with the empty buildings
If a building has been sitting empty for quite a while, the owner may be more interested. A building that rents out quickly is probably a poor target. Remind the business owner that a clean building hosting a pop-up gets more foot traffic than an empty dusty building that is locked up. More traffic means more potential renters.
Start with the holidays
If it looks like a building will sit empty through the holiday shopping season, that owner may be more inclined to talk pop-ups. You might even talk with them about how their participation will help the community. They’ll be adding another positive thing downtown rather than a blank face.
Start with one-day things
Rather than ask for a building for months at a time, ask if you can use it just for one day. That’s definitely a small step, and easier for people to consider than a long-term commitment.
Promise to clean up the building for them
We all know empty buildings attract dust and spiders. Building owners are busy just like everyone else. They don’t want to do the clean up, so this is another “what’s in it for me” you can offer them.
Start with good cause
This just makes it easier to say yes. It doesn’t matter whether the good cause is supporting the museum or promoting local art, as long as it’s a cause the building owner can get behind. Goffstown, New Hampshire, runs a temporary gallery called Local Color anytime they have an empty building available. When the building rents, they pack up. Which reminds me of this next one…
Promise to leave within a short time if they get a long-term tenant
This is more “what’s in it for me” for the owner. They’re worried that as soon as they commit to your short-term thing, a long-term well-paying renter will drop from the sky. Reassure them and agree to get out when that happens. Then honor your word if it does.
Start with kids or students
Another easy-to-say-yes option so the owner can get some positive experience with pop-ups. Who can say no to kids?? If you have a youth entrepreneur program, bring the kids downtown to do business in pop-ups.
Remember, you’re in a small town. That gives you an advantage in building relationships with owners. Do your homework. Find out what they care about and what is likely to get them to say yes. Include plenty of benefit to them, give them a chance to be the hero for the community and make it super easy and a small step to say yes the first time. Then it can only get easier from there.
Have you had success getting building owners to work with pop-ups? What has worked for you?
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