Keep On Poppin' On: Pop-Up Shops Gain Popularity in Tucson as Entrepreneurs use the Concept to Reinvent Their Craft

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ELENA GONZALEZ
  • Elena Gonzalez

The “pop-up” trend has gained much attention in Tucson in the last few years thanks to an up and coming chef, an innovative restaurant owner, and a couple of creative entrepreneurs. Pop-ups—temporary shops or events that typically last anywhere from a day to a few months—have been popular in big cities, but Tucson has recently become a hub for a variety of inventive pop-ups.
Traditionally, pop-ups are retail stores offering a variety of goods for a short amount of time.

Cultivate Tucson co-owners, Claire Seizovic and Kristin Tovar, saw Tucson as the perfect location for pop-up shops and decided to start their own shop brand in 2015.

“Tucson is definitely going through a creative renaissance right now,” Seizovic said in regards to why it is the right time for these unique markets in Tucson. Cultivate Tucson’s shops feature local artists and designers and are hosted in under-utilized spaces. Seizovic said the benefits of having a pop-up shop in comparison to a regular brick-and-mortar retail store include cost, momentum, and marketing. She said since the markets are a once a-year, one-day event the need for constant marketing isn’t there and the temporariness adds a hype aspect that encourages people to attend. “If you know its always available, it becomes less exciting,” Seizovic said.

Though Seizovic and Tovar weren’t the ones to create the pop-up concept, they’ve come up with ways to innovate the idea. An important part of Cultivates mission is donating to local non-profits.

By participating in the pop-up, all vendors agree to donate 20 percent of their sales to either a non-profit Cultivate highlights at the event or a non-profit of their choosing. Seizovic said that incorporating non-profits into the pop-up was “there from the very beginning.” At their December 2016 market, they were able to donate $10,000 to non-profits. Cultivate also stands out by the spaces they use. Their pop-ups are hosted in unused spaces that were not originally meant for retail stores. They used an old tire shop south of downtown for their last pop-up. By utilizing these unused, perhaps forgotten spaces, Seizovic said it is “a way to highlight a space for someone else to permanently buy.”

Cultivate Tucson recently announced their first spring pop-up shop. “The Flash” pop-up shop will be on Saturday, May 20 from 9am to 4pm. The shop will take place at an old appliance store, Flash TV and Appliance.

Chef Riley Chandler has also used location as a way to reinvent the concept of pop-ups. Chandler created his business, Pop-up Tucson, to bring pop-up dinners to Tucson. He first got the idea from Scottsdale chef, T.J. Culp. Culp had been successfully hosting pop-up dinners throughout the Scottsdale area and Chandler thought Tucson would be a good place for the concept. Since his first pop-up in May of 2016, he has hosted a total of 5 pop-ups in Tucson and 5 in different U.S. cities. Chandler has had success in bringing pop-up dinners to Tucson and said it is largely because people are attracted to the uniqueness of the event. “You’re not confined to four walls inside a restaurant, you’re literally outside the box,” Chandler said.

Besides the inventive location, Chandler uses other unique elements like collaborations with chefs and entertainment for guests. Collaborating with other chefs is one of Chandler’s favorite aspects of the pop-ups because it not only benefits him but the guests as well. He said it brings in other influences and allows him to learn from other culinary minds. “It elevates my style.”

He often brings in chefs from Phoenix, which allows the guests to taste their food without having to go to Phoenix. As for the entertainment aspect, Chandler always incorporates the arts into the dining experience. He says though it is not a necessary element, it is something important to him. “It ties the knot around the whole vibe,” he said. Past pop-up dinners have featured a jazz trio and a live painter.
Restaurant owner, Scott Stiteler, revamped the pop-up trend to fit his passion for history and restaurants. Stiteler opened up his pop-up bar, Martin Drug Co., in February as a way to utilize an old building while he creates his long-term plan for the space. Stiteler hopes that by first using the space as a pop-bar while he plans the restaurant, he can reintroduce the space to the public and bring it back into people’s lives. The pop-up bar is only utilizing about 1,000 square feet of the space. The inspiration for the pop-up bar came from an old drugstore that used to reside in the building in the late 1880’s to mid-1960s. When Stiteler discovered this he knew it made sense to respect that history while also adding, “a dose of fun.”

The space gives ode to its history through black and white images of the Martin family and their drug store that hang on the walls of the pop-up. The traditional black and white pictures are met with funky and modern décor, giving the space the perfect blend of old and new. Stiteler said that since the bar is temporary, there was a lot more latitude when it came to interior design. Unlike most pop-ups, Martin Drug Co. will remain open for a generous 6 months. It will then be reinvented again into a more family-friendly, traditional eatery Stiteler said.

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