Storefront Transformer: A Kit for Pop-Up Community Hubs

Did you know there are more than 200 vacant storefronts in the Lower East Side of Manhattan?

Made in the Lower East Side (miLES) started as an online collaboration through OpenIDEO to find ways to make use of these resources that are sitting idle in a vibrant neighborhood. We held numerous street interviews and engagement sessions, which resulted in a wide diversity of opinions about how to use these spaces.

In April, we created a prototype storefront to test different models for using these underused storefronts to support entrepreneurial, creative and civic uses—including classes, co-working spaces, pop-up galleries, and pop-up shops. We had more than 100 requests for various kinds of pop-ups during the pilot period.

Based on what we learned working with our pop-up hosts, we are now introducing the miLES Storefront Transformer as a tool to support the incubation of more emerging ideas through pop-ups, so entrepreneurs and creatives can focus on creating their content and building their ideas.

The Storefront Transformer is a versatile set of furnishing and amenities to program any storefront—essentially a six-foot cube that can be easily transported and subdivided to roll through any storefront door. When unfolded, the Storefront Transformer provides functional elements such as shelving, partitions, tables, seats, and a stage, as well as infrastructure like lighting, Wi-Fi, power strips, speakers, projectors, and a PA system, so you have all the basic ingredients to create your own pop-up.

We're running a Kickstarter campaign to prototype and demonstrate a miLES Storefront Transformer in action this November and December. We will transform a vacant storefront in the Lower East Side to incubate seven pop-up ideas with the following themes: show, play, learn, share, make, shop, and eat. The storefront transformer will continue to operate throughout next year to incubate more pop-up ideas from anyone—including, possibly, you.

The seven weeks of pop-ups provide a demonstration that retail does not necessarily have to be a bar, restaurant, boutique, or chain store, but can instead be budding grounds of creative and civic activities. We'll host a pop-up comic book gallery with Jack Kirby Museum (week one), a nonprofit pop-up home helping homeless communities by The Space at Tompkins (week four), and a pop-up holiday shop that promotes ethical, local, and sustainable products by TYTHEdesign (week six), and more.

Our goal is to utilize vacant storefronts and create a neighborhood that is an incubator for ideas. By creating a common platform for different stakeholders, the community, small businesses and creatives can work with landlords to create a diverse and innovative spectrum of neighborly spaces that can be used by everyone.

We are currently focused on the Lower East Side because of the creative, entrepreneurial, and community-driven spirit of the neighborhood, but the Storefront Transformer is applicable and scalable to any neighborhood across the globe. The model is especially applicable to neighborhoods with a mix of different communities and those that are going through a lot of changes (like the Lower East Side) because it help brings diverse interests onto the same platform for exchanges and dialogues.

Over the last few months, we have started to work with smaller landlords who are willing to let us pop up in their vacant storefronts one month at a time while they are waiting for their long term tenants. We need to gather more support to recruit more landlords to open up these valuable resources for everyone.

Help us transform our neighborhood and scale this effort across different changing neighborhoods around the world. And help entrepreneurs, creatives and civic-minded communities showcase their emerging ideas, one storefront at a time.

This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.

Images courtesy of Made in the Lower East Side

Julian Meehan

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