The New Retail Trend That's Helping To Revitalize Downtrodden Detroit


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Margarita Barry

In a city like Detroit with more and more young people but a lot of empty spaces, it’s the pop-up shops that are the perfect opportunity to test out a business and potentially to help revitalize a city in dire need of a boost. 

Pop-up shops are temporary retail stores that rent space for a limited amount of time, sometimes for a specific season, and then close up once their limited term ends.

Helping push the trend is Detroit Pop, a “creative placemaking agency” focused on local pop-up design and consulting. The firm takes a local Detroit business, revamps its design and business model, and sends it off into the world, both temporarily and permanently.

Big things have small beginnings

Margarita Barry, a young entrepreneur and mother, is the founder of the two-year-old Motor City start-up, also known as D:Pop. The company is the evolved form of previous start-up design companies, conglomerated into one that manages more than 13 different pop-up ventures. Barry says she decided to put her web development company on the backburner in order to take on design consulting full-time.

“I was getting inquiries from others who needed help getting started with their own start-ups and pop-ups. That’s how Detroit Pop started.”

Though D:Pop found its footing renting physical retail space to clients, it soon turned into a full-time consulting service once Barry realised that the service demand was expanding. 

“I think pop-up retail is really exciting in Detroit, the trend that’s happening right now is a lot of food oriented pop-ups. Cafes, restaurants, stuff like that …With traditional retail, you have to find a blank space and start from scratch, unless you latch onto an existing organisation. Food pop-ups don’t necessarily have to do that.” 

Economically stimulating a city in need

Barry thinks that the pop-up movement in Detroit is an economically stimulating venture, echoed in this Huffington Post piece, but some speculate that it takes away from the value of taxpayer dollars that should go to stationary small businesses and increases the risk involved for the short-term entrepreneurs.

“I don’t think we’re in a place now in Detroit where businesses opening is taking away from others. Competition is good for us,” Barry said. “We need to build up a more dense district. We need more walkable retail areas. But really, we’re not there yet, where we can say that pop-ups aren’t good for us.”

Among some of the enduring pop-up ventures, two that have worked with Barry, Detroit Vegan Soul and Cyberoptix, have adapted their business models to produce more sustainable operations. Barry says the companies wouldn’t have been able to do that without having the opportunity to test the market with pop-ups first. 

“The idea behind (pop-ups) and the push towards people taking chances and experimenting with low risk up front, with pop-up retail, and no contracts for year-long leases, means you can test your markets. I see it being a catalyst for this retail revolution that we’re having.”

The opportunity is there, but is the leadership?

Barry credits much of the city’s improvements to billionaire Dan Gilbert’s cultural and business investments, though she said she was surprised that no one else had jumped on the opportunity to revive Detroit, a city whose abandoned real estate really gives a bang for your buck.

“There has always been the opportunity, there are great buildings and structures waiting for development.”

Though D:Pop’s entrepreneurial spirit has invigorated new growth in the local community, Barry says that a lot more has to change before Detroit is strong again, including weeding out crime, blight, and corruption.

“It all goes back to our leadership, the people in power. If we don’t have strong leadership, who recognise the work that needs to be done, in the best way possible, then we don’t have a chance.”

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