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February 2022

How One Open-Air Center’s Holiday Pop-Ups Enhanced Leasing Efforts

The Shops at West Elm

By Lauren Elkies Schram
From ICSC:

During the past holiday season, The Shops at West End put a twist on holiday pop-up incubators. It activated vacant space throughout the St. Louis Park, Minnesota, center by offering space to local businesses for a nominal utilities fee and a small, refundable deposit. The move not only lifted occupancy during the most recent holiday season above 80%, it also activated space on behalf of traditional-lease tenants and gave community businesses an opportunity to experience brick-and-mortar life.

Stephanie Drews — vice president of regional asset management for property owner American Finance Trust, which will become The Necessity Retail REIT when its acquisition of a portfolio from CIM Real Estate Finance Trust closes — categorized the pop-ups not only as an opportunity for small businesses to join the center but as a creative way for the center to enhance leasing.

Businesses began to open the pop-ups in November 2021, and by the marketplace’s Dec. 4 holiday event and tree lighting, nine pop-ups were operating in previously vacant space. “Having these shops and activities open during the holidays has encouraged interest,” Drews said. Throughout the rest of 2021, the center had signed three leases. Then, in December, it signed three more: infrared fitness studio Hotworx, which operates 24 hours per day, and restaurants Nautical Bowls and Urban Wok. And now five of the nine holiday pop-ups have signed or are considering longer leases: Ooh La La Boutique, Lost in the Forrest and Muddy Paws Cheesecake have signed 13-month leases, another is in negotiations and yet another is a possibility. Meanwhile, the center has letters of intent for traditional leases from four more tenants that would even further diversify the tenant mix: a bridal shop, a Pilates studio, a wellness spa and a restaurant.

Erika Bennett — senior regional property manager at Hiffman National and the on-site property manager of the 381,804-square-foot, open-air shopping center — cold-called local small businesses, and her efforts brought life to 30,324 square feet during the holiday season.

All told, the pop-up program brought more than 75 small businesses to The Shops at West End. Some took singular spaces, but a large portion of those 75 businesses came by way of three occupants that took about half the pop-up space: Mn Founders Collective, Muddy Paws Cheesecake and Grow to Life.

Nascent nonprofit Mn Founders Collective, which is still running in the space and which is in talks for a longer lease, serves as a launching pad for start-up founders. Its 3,200-square-foot space is divided into three sections: one where the entrepreneurs sell their goods during events and open houses, an event space where they showcase their businesses for investors, and private offices for start-ups that “can’t afford space and don’t want to be in co-working,” said president and CEO Jenn Bonine.

Foot traffic at the center ticked up noticeably during the holidays, according to Bennett. St. Louis Park Mayor Jake Spano noted: “Pop-up concepts like this bring energetic options to the West End, which visitors have come to expect. Any ideas that attract further commercial interest within the shopping center while bringing in more people and creativity are welcome. Pop-up concepts also offer an opportunity for small businesses and entrepreneurs to test the waters and support BIPOC small businesses and entrepreneurs.”

For the small business participants, the pop-ups showcased services and merchandise in a physical space. The initiative particularly benefited businesses that otherwise could not have afforded a storefront. Trish Foster, marketing director at community booster organization Discover St. Louis Park, cited Black- and woman-owned Koko Kouture, whose first brick-and-mortar presence was a holiday pop-up at The Shops at West End. It was “just a wonderful venture, both for the businesses and I think for the community as a whole,” Foster said.

– Additional reporting by ICSC Commerce + Communities Today editor-in-chief Amanda Metcalf.

Read the article online at the ICSC site.

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