Tom Daguanno and J. Max Schmidt of custom suit shop 1701 Bespoke are in a temporary location in the Chrysler House as they search for a bigger, permanent storefront in the central business district. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Detroit — A slew of pop-up retailers from downtown to the neighborhoods are looking to open permanent locations in the city.
A clothier, toy store and stationery shop are planning long-term storefronts on Woodward. An indie movie theater recently signed a lease in Midtown. And a garment-maker decided to permanently open along Livernois Avenue on Detroit’s northwest side.
It’s further proof of the city’s changing retail scene: Small businesses are starting out with temporary openings before committing full-time. The method allows owners to test their products in unsure markets, find what size stores work best and learn about all aspects of running a business — all while having the flexibility to change.
“The pop-up approach is hot right now,” said Michael Forsyth, business development manager for Revolve Detroit. He has helped pop-ups find space throughout the city. “We treat them like experiments. You’re testing a business model live in real time.”
Pop-up success in Detroit isn’t new. Retailers and restaurateurs from West Village to the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood started on one- or two-month leases before demand warranted full-time stores.
That’s what happened for the newest wave of pop-up-to-permanent spots, too.
Tom Daguanno and J. Max Schmidt were only supposed to open 1701 Bespoke, a custom suit shop, for two days in a Bedrock Real Estate storefront downtown. But that plan quickly changed.
“Within 24 hours, we were booked up for the whole week,” Schmidt said. “We were completely overloaded and Bedrock extended us.”
Three months later, the duo is open in a temporary location in the Chrysler House as they search for a bigger, permanent storefront in the central business district.
“To completely embrace your business like that ... it’s something really special and I’d be a fool to turn my back on that,” Schmidt said.
Lessons for beginners
For many would-be business owners, pop-ups are a learning experience.
Paula and Tim Guthat took their pop-up indie movie theater, Cinema Detroit, permanent last October when they signed a lease at the former Burton Theater in Midtown. The theater is open every Thursday through Sunday and shows a number of local, independent films.
Before that, though, the couple had popped-up at a number of temporary locations throughout the city, including Coffee and _____, a pop-up that became a permanent coffee shop on Jefferson east of downtown.
Paula Guthat said the pop-ups taught them everything from how to keep track of inventory and handle film distribution, to what kind of crowds to expect and how to make popcorn.
“We would have been completely unprepared if we had not done the pop-up,” she said. “We wouldn’t have known what we were getting into.”
It also was a learning experience for the owners of stationery store Rock Paper Scissors and Speilhaus Toys, two pop-ups that opened on Woodward downtown during the holiday season.
Neither Lisa Roberts, who owns the Ann Arbor-based stationery story, nor Kurt Spieles, who owns the toy store, was sure if there was a market for their offerings downtown. Holiday foot traffic proved there was.
“The energy of the people in downtown Detroit was fun to be around,” Roberts said. She’s looking for a manager for the Detroit store before opening a permanent storefront along Woodward, she hopes.
Spieles said response was so good he had to renew inventory multiple times. He’d like to open near Woodward, too, and hopes to have a spot picked by spring.
“Every day there were little lessons I learned,” he said. “The biggest was that there’s a market in downtown Detroit for retailers.”
There’s a market for pop-up retailers in the neighborhoods, too.
Along a revived stretch of Livernois Avenue on Detroit’s northwest side, Detroit Fiber Works and Love Travels Imports just signed long-term leases.
They join previous neighborhood successes like Coffee and _____ along Jefferson and Always Brewing coffee in Grandmont Rosedale.
Detroit Fiber Works co-owners Mandisa Smith and Najma Wilson said opening along Livernois Avenue, known formerly as the “Avenue of Fashion,” is important to them because they live nearby.
The store, which hand-makes fiber for clothes, blankets and other garments, opened as a pop-up in September. Wilson said they learned a lot.
“It gives you the experience to get your feet wet,” she said. “Had we not done the pop-up, it would have been a whole different perspective.”
Forsyth said more and more new business owners will likely look to pop-ups because of the success the trend is having.
“For a lot of first-time entrepreneurs, it’s a real-life crash course in terms of testing the market, and testing the lifestyle, too,” he said. “Small business is not for the faint of heart.”