The high price of real estate is the single biggest consideration for someone looking to open a bookstore. Now, many aspiring booksellers, and even some established ones, are testing the market by running pop-up shops in the communities where they are thinking of opening bricks-and-mortar outlets.
Charlie Pugsley runs BookSpace Columbus, a pop-up bookstore that travels among farmers’ markets and craft fairs in his home town of Columbus, Ohio. “Two years ago, I had just moved back home after living in Nashville,” he said. “I knew I wanted to open a bookstore but didn’t have enough cash for a lease.” So he was referred to an acquaintance who had run pop-up stalls around Columbus, who advised him on where to set up shop. He then started collecting used books from thrift stores on the back of his bike and selling them locally.
Today, Pugsley sells books off a portable table, is registered as a business with the IRS, has opened an online bookstore, and, earlier this month, was a featured bookseller at the inaugural Flyover Fest, organized by Columbus-based independent publishing house Two Dollar Radio. “I’ll likely be a pop-up bookseller for several more years, so it’s ironic that there is space in my name, as its one thing I don’t have,” Pugsley joked. “But by being a pop-up I don’t have to open a store and run the risk of failing. I’m learning everything as I go and can apply it to the store when I open it.”
Nikkya Hargrove had hoped an Indiegogo campaign would support her dream of opening a bookstore in Stratford, Conn. But the initial crowdfunding campaign raised just $5,188 of its $100,000 goal. As a stopgap, she has been setting up pop-ups under the brand name Serendipity Bookstore, which she intends to use for the bricks-and-mortar store she plans to open.
Serendipity had its first outing on a Sunday afternoon in April at Two Roads Brewing Company. “I was incredibly nervous,” said Hargrove, who works as a freelance writer and contributes regularly to the Washington Post. “All I did to promote the event was send out a simple Facebook invite, but I got 60 people to come out and made $700 in a few hours.” Hargrove offered a selection of used and new titles—many donated by authors she’d solicited on the Pantsuit Nation, a private Facebook group. She also sold socks and T-shirts from the Out of Print clothing company.
Based on the success of the first pop-up store, Hargrove got a request to host one on June 3 at the Perry House Museum in Stratford and again on August 27 at Two Roads Brewing. “The pop-up shop is helping me gauge interest from the community and see what kinds of books and authors we might want to bring,” she said. Hargrove noted that she joined both the American Booksellers Association and the New England Independent Booksellers Association. She has relaunched her Indiegogo campaign, this time asking for $75,000.
Breweries around Minneapolis–St. Paul are also playing host to a new series of events, labeled Books & Beer Pop-Up Bookstores (not to be confused with the Books & Brews bookstore chain). The events were conceived by local indie author Scott Burtness as networking parties for the local self-publishing community, but he also saw an opportunity to recruit indie bookstores to sell at the events.
The first Books & Beer Pop-Up Bookstore was held on May 11 at Lake Monster Brewery. “We got [local independent bookstore] Moon Palace Books to sell on site and attracted 150 [people] into the brewery for the event,” Burtness said, adding that “the plan is to bring in a different bookstore to sell books each time.”
The phenomenon of the pop-up bookstore is not new, nor is it restricted to newbie booksellers. The Strand in New York City has run the book kiosk at 60th Street and Fifth Avenue off and on since the 1960s. In June 2016, the Strand opened a kiosk in Times Square that has remained open since. This March and April the Strand had a pop-up bookstore in the Artists & Fleas marketplace in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, and last weekend it opened another pop-up with Artists & Fleas in SoHo in Manhattan, which will stay open through the summer. “The pop-ups have been really successful experiments for us and they have been a great way to extend into more parts of the city,” said Leigh Altschuler, director of marketing and communications for the store.
One of the highest-profile pop-up stores in recent months was opened in Washington, D.C., by Angela Maria Spring, a former floor manager at Politics & Prose bookstore. She raised $10,759 on Kickstarter to provide seed money for Duende District Bookstore, a multicultural bookstore she plans to launch. The first iteration of the bookstore was a pop-up shop within the Artomatic arts festival that stayed open from March 24 to May 6. Spring said that she plans to use pop-ups as a way to explore locations before deciding on the bookstore’s permanent home.