The Art of the Pop Up

Photography by Casey Rearick

The world wide web dramatically changed the where, when, and how we buy and sell goods and services around the world. Malls started to shutter their doors as we saw the rise of Amazon and eBay.

We saw artisans and craftspeople take to Etsy, Storenvy, Big Cartel, and elsewhere. As many business owners struggle with the rising cost of inventory, labor, utilities, and the upkeep of owning or renting a traditional storefront, some have evolved how they do business by returning to basics—but with a twist.

“Pop up shops” are usually goods and services offered and sold within vacant storefronts, open air markets, or even alongside established businesses for a brief customer engagement. These shops are mostly advertised through social media like Facebook and especially Instagram, as hashtags allow savvy consumers to find relevant offers with more ease and poise than any Sunday circular loaded with coupons. The myriad of what can be bought and sold is only limited to what the market dictates and the imagination of those trying to earn a dollar.

Cleveland has a unique brand of clientele eager for new, inventive, and especially convenient ways to shop—and actually enjoy the shopping experience as well. Pop ups offer a sense of community for those in the know and shopping in the now. They bolster existing businesses through invigorating special events where outside artists, stylists, and creatives can showcase their goods and services without commiting to year-long leases on storefronts or stockpiling large amounts of inventory that may not sell from one season to the next.

Intrinsically, pop ups help set the trends and generate new interest in areas largely ignored because they might not have been zoned for commercial mega stores. The capital investment to start and run a pop up is significantly lower when compared to more traditional business practices, offering those who might have been previously disenfranchised an unprecedented opportunity. Regardless of service or products offered, it’s this marketability that drives the lifeblood of a successful pop up. A savvy consumer can now feed their mind, body and soul and look good doing it.

The best we can do as consumers is to educate ourselves about what we’re purchasing, from who, and why. Starving artists should easily be a stereotype we can fix in the 21st century by thinking globally and shopping locally, so pull out your phone, jump on social media, and start searching hashtags. There’s a world of wonder ready to pop up from your fingertips. The following five examples are just a selection of what Cleveland’s pop-up scene has to offer.

Rosewater Kitchen

Cassy Black started her vegan supper club known as Rosewater Kitchen after friends and family countlessly told her she should open her own restaurant. She gravitated to the structure of pop-up dining to gain the experience and exposure that could only be previously obtained by sinking thousands of dollars into a restaurant through years of trial and error. Rosewater runs once a month for roughly three to four hours, only seating eight. Taking the idea of offering a monthly prix frixe menu of vegan cuisine, Black made it smaller and more refined so one person could run an entire kitchen as well as a full dinner service.

“Flexibility is the biggest benefit of doing a pop up,” Black says.

Everything is meant to be seasonal, from the decor to the flavor profile of each shared course. The entire philosophy for each meal is built around a communal experience bolstered by limited seating. Strangers become friends amid appetizers and small talk, reveling in the notion that the meal shared together will never be duplicated. Each bite is meant to provoke the thought that change in diet is possible, not demanded and done so without the soapbox preaching. Black takes pride infusing those ethics into her recipes.

“Anything you love, crave, and enjoy eating with meat, I can recreate as a vegan option,” Black says. “Anything you can make, I can make vegan. That’s my dream, that’s my goal.”

Social media plays a major factor in the growth and future of Black’s business. Billed as a “vegan, underground, fine-dining experience,” it’s a delicate balance of keeping the events small for accomodation, but selling them out to cover cost. It’s a culinary speakeasy, and that’s half the charm of it all. Social media interactions helps dictate the menu as patrons can voice their tastes and help Black decide between which recipes to try or not try.

With so many specific groups congregated on Facebook and Instagram, a photo of vegan cuisine can target those groups and organically spark a whole conversation that brings even more customers to the table. The same friends and family that encouraged Black to try her hand at cooking are now spreading the word of her creations and pushing her further in the kitchen. Aspirations for a brick and mortar restaurant and a possible cookbook are there, but for now Black and Rosewater Kitchen have ventured into baking vegan cookies, cakes, and treats to help us all navigate through the holidays.

Ruby’s Beauty Bar

Ruby’s Beauty Bar has its own sense of style and way of doing things, just like its namesake owner and operator. Recently, Ruby Saleh has joined efforts with Glamour Edge Beauty in a series of pop ups that offer and spotlight new services with new products. Glamour Edge Beauty has released makeup palettes that you can only purchase at Ruby’s Beauty Bar. Determined to stand out among other beauty salons, Saleh took active steps to blaze a new trail. At Ruby’s Beauty Bar, emerging artists can showcase their talents for a wide range of customers and their unique needs.

The pop ups have helped develop brand awareness on a local level which brings in future sales. “Pop ups help sell the individual and not just the company,” Saleh says. “It changes how and when to try new things. It’s full immersive versus a highlight of services. An appetizer versus a full course.”

A large part of what guides this momentum is the attention to detail paid to trends on social media. “We rely more and more on social media,” Saleh explains. “Now businesses need it to survive, promote, and think of new ideas.”

This reliance means paying far more attention to advanced planning with pop up events so that more focus is placed on services and not just products. With these pop ups, it’s an evolution—more business in one space at one time, rather than all the time. There’s no certain rules, but themes help center events and garner more attention from the public. It’s a key factor in doing more without having to do more yourself as a business owner. For Ruby, pop ups offer a chance at collaboration and exposure while forming a symbiotic business relationship that supports and empowers others within her community.

Glamour Edge Beauty

Not content to simply be a freelance makeup artist working for others, Precious Russell has recently transitioned from Glamour Edge Beauty being a side project to it now being her full-time business. This transition occurred after establishing herself in established markets like Ruby’s Beauty Bar, but also branching out into new areas left untapped by conventional means.

Social media is an integral part of the Glamour Edge Beauty brand. Not only are these new

products teased and debuted on social media to garner and gauge interest, it’s also where

customers are able to showcase what these products can do when combined with their talents. Russell utilized social media to engage with professional wrestlers Harlow O’Hara and Delilah Doom as well as WWE’s Glam Squad to find out the unique cosmetic needs for their performers. Russell will be releasing a color palette based on the in-ring look of Harlow O’Hara this holiday season with another pallette tempered after Delilah Doom in the coming year.

“I want to make and sell the kind of products that I would want to buy and use,” Russell says.

Pop ups for Russell have been a proving ground for customers who normally wouldn’t think of such striking makeup as being suited to them. Her background in makeup styling has made Russell more confident to develop her own cruelty-free products right here for the community she lives to serve.

Black Market

Emma Jochum is a familiar face among the Cleveland art and music scene. As purveyor of Black Market, she’s the unsung queen of Cleveland pop ups. Her pop ups have raised money and awareness for numerous charities and causes and helped unite an often divided community of artists, musicians, and creative misanthropes.

The Black Market itself is now a brick-and-mortar establishment born from a pop up-shop competition. Since its inception, Jochum has sought to showcase more of the extreme music scene often ignored in Cleveland, as well as spotlight the artists that gravitate towards that lifestyle. Within a short time, Black Market has made a lasting impact on the community it serves. Stores like Coven and Cleveland Curiosities can trace some of their origins back to Jochum and her efforts.

Since establishing her own pop up shop into a full-fledged business, Jochum has taken to banding other startups and business types with her own pop up events, two of the biggest being her Heavy Metal Flea Markets near Halloween and Christmas. Jochum has also incorporated wellness programs such as Punk Rock Yoga and other forms of betterment.

As a battle-tested veteran of pop ups—both selling at them and running them—Emma offers some tips to those on both sides of the dollar. To grow your own pop up collaboration is crucial. Trading skills and goods instead of cash has more longevity in fostering business relationships. Curate for everyone, as variety is paramount. New vendors are just as important as old vendors by mixing it up to events fresh and new.

“Motivation is the key factor of a pop up,” Jochum says. “It’s hobby versus profession. It can be your future if you want it to be.”

Cattitude Vintage

Lauren Budin, better known as Lauren Boo, is the stylish beauty and brains behind Cattitude Vintage, a fashion-forward clothing boutique that specializes in the aesthetics of the 1990s. Imagine raiding the wardrobe department of the films Clueless and The Craft and you got the look. Lauren transitioned her love for thrifting as a teen into a what is now known as Cattitude in 2015. She’s moved between pop ups and brick-and-mortar setups and lived to tell the tale of both sides of business.

“One of the worst things about pop ups is how physically and emotionally exhausting it can be to haul everything, set it up, tear it down and take it back with you, and then dealing with storage,” Boo says.

Part of this is why she took up a brief residence at Mahall’s Twenty Lanes in Lakewood. Starting with a few racks of signature pieces, Boo started to add more men’s clothes to cater to the demographic. Her brand was established and started to grow more and more, bringing upcycled style with more contemporary panache to her clientele.

“Social media is absolutely everything for promotion,” Boo says. “Even doing on pop up or flea market helps keep the branding alive.”

She also feels that it’s the best resource for sellers looking to venture to new areas to market their wares. “Research the potential success before agreeing to sell,” Boo adds. All this helps Boo’s goal to preserve a vintage sense of style in this modern world by giving homes to the fashion she finds that deserves to live on with appreciative customers.