Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis is the epicenter of fan festivities for the 2019 NCAA Final Four this weekend — something 50 small business owners are taking advantage of to show off their work during one of the busiest weekends of the year.
"This means a lot of foot traffic for us," said Umar Ahmed, who'll be selling his Twiggy Fresh's bamboo toothbrushes in a temporary pop-up shop in the Gavidae Common building on Sixth Street and Nicollet Avenue. His product is modeled after a "miswak," the type of natural toothbrush he used growing up in Somalia.
He hopes this weekend's crowds can give his business more exposure than he has had in the two years he has been selling online. The 2018 Super Bowl Host Committee in Minnesota reported more than a million people visited the Nicollet Mall area for fan festivities over several days leading up to that big game.
"There are a lot of different businesses in Minnesota," Ahmed said. "There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there from different backgrounds and to be here to represent those backgrounds means a lot to us."
The Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District calls these pop-ups "Chameleon Shoppes."
The district director Steve Cramer said it serves as a new model for vacant space inside buildings. He has been pitching it to several downtown landlords.
"We say, 'Look, you have vacant space and we've got an idea for how to fill that space and really activate your building,'" Cramer said. "They will receive compensation but it won't be standard commercial rent. It will be a percentage of the sales that are achieved."
Cramer said the idea for pop-up shops came about after some major retail anchors like the downtown Macy's closed in recent years.
Temporary pop-up shops have existed for decades with mostly seasonal and holiday themes, said Hye-Young Kim, director of the retail merchandising program at the University of Minnesota. Now, Kim says, online retailers often use them to limit the risk of owning a business.
Kim said they are also growing in popularity among shoppers.
"This unconventional retail concept appeals to today's extremely fickle, experience-seeking consumers, who demand more and more variety and novelty in the marketplace," she said.
Cramer said while there won't be a Final Four or Super Bowl to boost traffic every weekend, the long-term plan is to work with more private landlords in hopes of keeping a rotating list of Chameleon Shoppes popping up downtown.
Ronnie Kennedy, who started her online retail business WeWannaRock about five months ago, is looking forward to the opportunity to showcase her clothing line for the next month.
She also welcomes the sense of community that the space on the first floor of Gavidae Common will bring. Her pop-up shop is situated next to several others belonging to women from north Minneapolis.
"I think it's amazing to be able to pop up with all these different women when we all come from the same place," Kennedy said.