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Pop-up events as a means to grow and thrive during a pandemic

By Pam Simpson, December 4, 2020


Growing in the midst of a pandemic is no small feat for a young BID. However, in order to support and perhaps save our existing small businesses, we needed to make our commercial corridor hum again with open retail shops.

As a professional retail recruiter, I know that hosting Pop Up events is a tried and true strategy to fill empty storefronts and breathe life into a commercial corridor. These deliberate short-term retail events stop the rise of otherwise vacant commercial spaces simultaneously benefiting the property owner, the tenant business, and the neighborhood at large. I believe that, despite our economic crisis, or perhaps because of it, we should implement this strategy in the Northern Liberties Business Improvement District. My team agreed.

We talked with our businesses and our property owners, we discovered great interest in a pop-up event, free of charge to tenants. It made us hopeful that there might be a way to make something good come out of this highly unusual retail season.

We had three goals for the 2020 Holiday Pop Up event: To showcase our vacant storefronts to start-ups and other businesses to those empty spaces; to identify and engage small businesses that who just might be the next tenants for the space; and to have neighborhood to hum again with open retail shops and a shopping experience that benefited everyone.

Gluten Lab for Pop Up 2020
Gluten lab is a vendor in the 2020 Holiday Pop Up

The response was beyond our expectations. Property owners jumped at the opportunity and readied their storefronts, vendors reported good sales, and the local social media platforms reflected a neighborhood pleased with the first weekend. New businesses had the opportunity to get to know the neighborhood and see themselves in retail spaces, property owners were able to breathe life into otherwise dark spots, the neighborhood businesses are leveraging the event with their own Black Friday and Small Business Saturday events, and the community has the chance to find new treasures while shopping at their favorite small businesses along our corridor. Thanks to our PR firm, we had intense media coverage. It turned out to be a win-win-win-win for everyone involved.

From Christmas trees to specialty foods, this vendor occupies a recently-vacated storefront

Pivoting has become the norm for small businesses in these pandemic times and, as a BID, ours is to support them in this process. However, sometimes we don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” but to utilize the commercial real estate strategies that have been proven successful in the past.






Pam Simpson is the Retail Recruiter for the Northern Liberties Business Improvement District.

She recently moved to Philadelphia from California and has quickly become a well-known figure in our BID.