Nothing Short About Summer Pop-Up Stores’ Impact on Local Businesses

By Gina G. Scala | Aug 07, 2019

Surf City — A pop-up in baseball is defined as a short high-fly hit to the infield or immediately beyond that is easily caught before hitting the ground. By definition, a pop-up store or business is a trend of opening a short-term sales space. The key word in both definitions is the use of the word “short,” ending the similarities without much of a second thought by many.

Perhaps, though, there should be more thought given to how, when and where pop-up stores or businesses are put into play, especially in resort communities. The idea of a short-term sales space for merchants to hawk their goods dates back at least to 1289 in Vienna, mostly as seasonal marts. Reimagined for the modern age in Los Angeles more than a decade ago, pop-up stores are now generally hyped, in large cities, as part of marketing a timely event or to launch the latest fad.

Their role in smaller markets, at least until recently, has been seen as a way for individual small businesses, nonprofits and business organizations to lend a hand to peers who might otherwise be limited in reach. But at what cost? And to whom?

While most members of the public aren’t asking those questions, answering them is part of the consideration that goes into approving such summer events as farmers markets.

Earlier this summer, after some initial resistance from Murphy’s Market in Beach Haven, officials there deliberated whether to allow a farmers market to operate from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Wednesday at Veterans Memorial Park. The market has one vendor, Stilwell Farms. Fees the borough collects from the vendors will be donated to the New Jersey Maritime Museum and the LBI Historical Association Museum. Both museums are located in Beach Haven.

Mary Clare Bunce, assistant borough manager, said the owner of Murphy’s Market contacted the town over concerns of how the farmers market would affect business. Murphy’s owner Ron Murphy and its general manager, John Wachter, declined to comment for this article.

“We had talks with Murphy’s, and I feel we addressed their concerns,” Bunce said when the issue arose last month. “We invited Murphy’s to participate in the market, maybe set up an area of their own free of charge.”

Borough officials also discussed moving the farmers market to Walsh Field, but said Veterans Park made the most sense because of its location and its designation as a venue for numerous other events, she said.

“It’s possible we could consider moving it next year. We’re going to closely watch how the farm market goes,” she said, adding, “It’s not going to be like what they have in Surf City, which is quite large. We’re limiting this strictly to farm produce. There won’t be any crafts or concession stands.”

Bunce is referring to the Surf City Farmer’s Market, now in its third consecutive year. It’s sponsored by the Surf City Volunteer Fire Co. and EMS every Monday from the end of June through the end of August. Discussions are being held to see how better to incorporate brick and mortar businesses in Surf City into the fold.

In the meantime, the rules in Surf City, which is less than one square mile in area, are very clear.

“When discussing pop-ups, you can’t sell what you’re not already selling,” Mayor Francis Hodgson said recently when asked about pop-up stores, uh, popping up in the borough. “We’re doing it to protect other businesses.”

A site plan determines where a business operates from, according to the mayor. And even what many consider temporary changes, like tents outside of a business, are adding a use that didn’t previously exist, he said.

“Not withstanding Surf City’s land use restrictions, I do see the value in pop-up shops that are limited to business-similar vendors: an art gallery hosting a guest artist, a café hosting a guest baker. There’s value there,” Dan Malay, president of the Surf City Business Cooperative, said recently. “In fact, I believe there’s room for those (events) not even being considered pop-ups.”

On the other hand, he said, the underlying philosophy behind Surf City’s restricting outside vendor sales is “an inherently good one. It is a pro-business position that protects brick and mortars who have made significant investment in their operations and the community to try and succeed in an ever-shrinking summer season.”

Malay said he would always advocate for preserving brick and mortar shop owners, who have made significant investments in their communities to provide goods, services and jobs, and preserve property values.

“It is one of the core characteristics that makes Surf City so great, and we should preserve it,” he said.

Hodgson agrees.

Pop-up businesses “come in, take money and leave,” the mayor said. “What happens to the people who have 10 weeks to make their money so they can pay their taxes, the water and sewer bills? It’s not fair” to them.

Hodgson went on to call the summer the survival season for resort-area small businesses.

“Everyone waits for summer, everyone,” he said, noting Surf City and other Island communities can’t be compared to large cities. “People come here because they like it, and then they want to change it to be like where they come from.”

— Gina G. Scala and Eric Englund

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