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Have you ever walked down the street and seen an exciting new shop, only to return the following day to find it has disappeared? Perhaps you’ve experienced your first Pop-up Shop, a retail space that is here today and gone tomorrow. Catherine Rooney delves into the history of this shopping and dining phenomenon.
Text by: Catherine Rooney
Country: United Kingdom

n a fast-paced and constantly changing world, entrepreneurs need a flexible, dynamic way to do business. And in Britain and the United States, they’ve found it in pop-up shops. Pop-up shops are short-term shops or restaurants in a temporary location that allow business people to sell their products without the overhead or the commitment of a permanent retail space. They can open up a shop and sell their product until it runs out, which is when they close.

The idea is simple. Imagine you have a business idea but don’t have the time, money or confidence to fully invest in a shop. For example, you have a full-time job but you make cupcakes in your free time and want to start selling them. You find a space, such as an empty shop, a local pub or even a shipping container; you rent it for a short amount of time—a month, a week or even a day. Then you make and sell your cupcakes and walk away with the profit. There’s no commitment, and you’ve lost very little if your cupcakes aren’t popular with the general public.

Maybe the concept isn’t so new; after all, people have been selling lemonade in their front gardens for years. The specific term ‘pop-up retail’, however, was first used in Los Angeles during the early 2000s. Journalists and trendsetters used it to describe the newest craze of retail businesses that were appearing overnight and disappearing once all their stock had been sold. L.A. has always been famous for its food trucks, selling takeaway food from transportable vehicles with fully-fitted kitchens. It’s therefore not surprising that many of L.A.’s pop-ups have appeared in these very food trucks, including shops for very high-end fashion retailers selling clothes from the spaces that usually serve greasy hamburgers and burritos. Once the flame had been lit, pop-up popularity spread like wildfire, and they can now be found around the world, from London to New York, San Francisco to Melbourne.

Pop-up shops have been popular in the English-speaking world for a few reasons. One of the biggest influences was the 2008 financial crash that affected both the USA and the U.K., along with the rest of the world. With an unstable economy people generally didn’t have much extra money, and banks weren’t willing to invest in new businesses. In addition, many companies were closing, killing the confidence of new business people. Pop-up shops were a way to avoid risk and a trip to the bank.

Social media has also played its part. With the help of Twitter, Facebook and other outlets, it is really easy to promote events quickly and cheaply. You don’t need to spend time and money on a flash marketing campaign, and the promotion of your pop-up can be as flexible as the shop itself. At the end of the event, your Facebook page continues for free, keeping customers up-to-date without the cost of advertising or maintaining a website.

Shameem Mir has taken advantage of this new trend. She runs regular pop-ups under the name ‘Sham’s Kitchen’ across East London, selling her homemade Pakistani-influenced curries in pubs, bars and even houses. A qualified pharmacist, she always had a passion for cooking and sharing her food with friends and family. By organising her own pop-up restaurant events, she was able to share her delicious curries with the public too. For her, cooking is linked to a childhood growing up in Pakistan and spending time in the kitchen with family. Her pop-up restaurant means she can share this environment as well as the food. We caught up with her to learn more about what attracted her to the pop-up world.

“I cook because I want to give you the same taste and quality that I give my friends and family. Our love of food stems from childhood memories and that is what I aim to replicate in my food. When I am hunting for that authentic Pakistani / Punjabi curry in East London, I tend to end up travelling to different places such as Green Street or Leyton high road. I can find the taste from my childhood here but not the surroundings that we have all become accustomed to. So with my pop-up restaurant I bring people curry from my childhood and my kitchen to lovely local venues.” She also says the pop-up scene has given her a chance to cook in a way she wouldn’t be able to if she worked in a restaurant kitchen cooking for large groups of people every day.

“My curry is different because I cook in small batches to retain that home-cooked taste. What you eat will taste the same as if you came to my home for dinner. The other difference is that all my curries are made from scratch, using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Most mass produced curries are cooked using a ready-made paste which gives a grainy texture.”

It’s not all fun and games though. The negative side of owning a pop-up is that you often won´t have access to industrial-scale production facilities or storage space. Shameem mentioned some of the difficulties she faces. “[My biggest challenges are] cooking curry for 100 people that will have the same taste and texture as when I cook for 10, as well as cooking enough food so that I don’t run out.” And of course, managing a full time job and then preparing food for hundreds of people on the weekend can lead to a very tired entrepreneur at the end of the month.

However, on the whole, Shameem has had a great time running her pop-ups, and all of the advantages of this type of business are motivating her to keep at it.

“Where do I want to go from here? I want to carry on cooking for my local community and do more pop-ups to share my food as much as I can!”

Shameem is not alone. Pop-ups continue to fill the high streets, fleetingly bringing new styles and flavours to our doorsteps. It doesn’t stop with retail and food pop-ups either. Wander around major cities in Britain or the U.S. and you will find pop-up galleries, pop-up bars and even pop-up music gigs. In 2015, graffiti artist Banksy even opened a pop-up theme park /art exhibition in Weston Super-Mare, a British seaside town. It was a play on the famous Parisian theme park, Disneyland Park, and featured attractions which drew attention to and criticised the many negative parts of modern society. It was only open for two months and was so popular that entrance tickets sold out within days.

Pop-ups have become so famous in London that there is now an entire website dedicated to the trend, London Pop-ups. Try putting the name of your nearest city and ‘pop-up’ into Google to find out if there are events happening near you. If not, why not be a trendsetter and organise your own?

Part of the magic of pop-ups is the element of surprise and knowing that you have stumbled upon something that you might not ever experience again. Who knows? Maybe the next one will be yours!

Fact Box:

What does pop-up mean?
‘To pop up’ is a phrasal verb which means to appear unexpectedly or suddenly. You could use it to show you are surprised to see something or someone. “Little Red Riding Hood was walking through the forest, when a big bad wolf popped up out of nowhere!”

Pop-up books: We also use it to describe the children’s books that have carefully cut and folded pieces of card on each page, which ‘pop up’ to form a 3D scene when you open the book.

Pop-ups: Perhaps most commonly, it is used in technology to describe adverts which appear in new windows unexpectedly when you are browsing the Internet, sometimes caused by a virus on your screen. To prevent these you can use a ‘pop-up blocker’.


Pop-Up Shop ’til You Drop

In the fast-paced and constantly changing world we live in, there is a new type of shop that is popping up in major cities across the globe. They are aptly named ‘pop-up shops’ and are short-term shops or restaurants in a temporary location. They are a flexible and dynamic way for entrepreneurs to do business.

Business people can sell their products without the overhead or commitment of a permanent retail space. They rent a space for a short amount of time—a month, a week, or even a day—and they close their shop when they run out of their product. The space can be anything from an empty shop, a local pub or even a shipping container

Pop-up shops became popular in the English-speaking world after the 2008 financial crash. The economy was very unstable and people didn’t have a lot of extra money. Banks did not want to invest in new businesses and many companies were closing. Pop-up shops were a way to avoid a long-term risk and also avoid taking out loans from the bank.

Social media has helped to promote pop-ups. Pop-ups are now so famous in London that there is a website dedicated to this trend: London Pop-ups. If you put the name of your nearest city and the words pop-up in Google, you might find a shop near you.

Part of the magic of pop-ups is that you never know when or where a new one will open and many times you get to experience something unique that you may never experience again. And maybe, one day, the next pop-up shop, will be yours!



Below you will find text comprehension questions. Read and listen to the text and answer the questions (we recommend you read first and then listen).

Pop-Up Shop ’til You Drop



Grammar in Use

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Elementary: Expressing congratulations

Advanced: Make Vs. Make Off


Pop-Up Shops

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