When Root City began holding pop-up markets around Atlanta in 2013, people required an explanation: What exactly is a pop-up market?
Now, pop-up shops are everywhere, said Root City director Shannon Kroll. Pop-ups in the Atlanta area, which become especially prolific during the holiday season, offer shoppers an alternative to mass-produced gifts.
Kroll said Root City and other pop-ups also give local producers and artists a chance to reach a different audience than if their products were only sold in retail locations.
“It’s allowed a lot of people to get out there and try new things and see if their product sells, see who engages with it and to kind of try new things out,” said Kroll, who bought Root City from its founder, Jen Soong, and took it over at the start of 2017.
Most pop-up shops and markets interviewed favor local, handmade goods, like Indie Craft Experience, which put on its first pop-up shop in 2010 and has continued doing so every holiday season.
“Our main goal is to provide opportunity to local artists and crafters,” co-founder Christy Petterson wrote in an email interview. “By producing a pop-up shop, we have created another opportunity for them to get their product in front of an audience of people who appreciate handcrafted items.”
Pop-ups also give a place for producers who don’t have a mainstream product that fits into most stores, said Jon Copsey, interim director of marketing at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Since 2009, the center has held an annual pop-up market during the holidays.
“They don’t make enough to have their own store, and maybe they want to keep it local,” Copsey said of producers. “It gives them an outlet for that that they may not be able to find elsewhere.”
Copsey also said pop-ups give exposure to smaller artists.
“If you’re a small producer, you can easily get lost in the crowd. There’s no store that somebody can walk past and see your product,” he said.
Lacy Freeman is an Atlanta painter and illustrator who started selling her work at pop-up shops, including those run by Root City, in 2016.
“People could go to Target and buy wall art, but it’s not going to mean anything to them really, other than they might like that image,” she said. “People really like to fill their homes now and use things that mean something, and the best way to do that is to meet the person who made it.”
Freeman has found that pop-ups are an ideal place for gift items, such as stationery and cards.
“It’s a good way to get in front of a new audience, and it’s a good way to showcase my art and to make a little bit of money off some of the smaller items,” she said. “They change the [pop-up] location every time, and people from different neighborhoods will come out and support that and maybe people who I haven’t met at other events before.”
It’s also easier to get started at a pop-up compared to a retail location. Kroll said pop-ups have a low barrier to entry for producers, with Root City’s booth fees starting at $150. Copsey said the growth of pop-ups has inspired more people to try selling their work, which in turn fuels more pop-ups.
“It becomes kind of a cycle that you have more pop-up shops, so you get more artisans, so you get more pop-up shops,” he said.
Pop-ups have proven popular with shoppers. The number of attendees ranges from 300 at last year’s Chattahoochee Nature Center market up to 1,000 at the largest of Root City’s pop-ups.
Why pop-ups thrive in face of online shopping
Despite the prevalence of online shopping, people go to pop-ups for different reasons. One is that shoppers feel like they know the artists.
“The more local it is, the more people feel tied to the vendors,” Copsey said. “It’s your neighbors doing it.”
That means people can meet the makers behind the work that they purchase.
“It’s nice to interact with people who are handmaking things,” Freeman said. “They enjoy putting a face behind a product and knowing that that person actually made that thing.”
Pop-ups provide a curated community experience that a shopper can’t obtain online. Freeman said pop-ups usually have music, food trucks and other social components that make it an event, rather than a “singular shopping experience.”
Indie Craft Experience's Christy Petterson said it is nice for customers to be able to touch a product and see it in person before they buy it. The products also tend to be eclectic, said Tamara Kinmon, special events manager at the Chattahoochee Nature Center.
“It’s things that you’re not going to find anywhere else,” Kinmon said. “You can go online and find certain things, but then you look at it as, ‘OK, so this purchase was manufactured, but these guys made things with their own hands and their own time.’ So you’re more prone to purchase something at these types of events because you’re supporting your local businesses.”
Root City's Kroll noted that even for those who prefer to shop online, supporting local artists is easier to do at a pop-up.
“People want something that’s really interesting and unique, and it can take a long time to find that digging through Etsy with the right keywords,” Kroll said. “They could just walk into a market like this and find something unusual and beautiful right away.”
More than simply buying gifts, Kroll said shoppers at pop-ups are searching for a sense of community.
“We see this with the food movement, where people want to slow things down and really connect with food,” she said. “Items and stuff are following this same path, to some degree. It’s much slower. We’re nowhere near where the food movement is, but I think that people want to buy things that they care about. And maybe they buy fewer things, but they buy things that they have more of a connection to.”