By Amy Virginia Buchanan and Patrick Janelle
Here at Spring Street Social Society, we're known for our pop-up parties. From whimsical to exquisite, and always with some theatrical element or another, we've spent years perfecting the chaotic art of hosting large-scale shindigs meant to surprise and delight our guests.
The neon sign that welcomed all to our little store.
The thing is, our parties are one-offs, lasting a few nights at most. One such party occurred beneath a Metro underpass in Culver City, Los Angeles in September of 2016. We worked with the real estate company responsible for the space, the Runyon Group, to make a balloon-filled wonderland come to life. So when, four months later, the founders of Runyon Group came back to us with the offer of a raw space within their retail paradise, Platform, we went...what? We’d entertained the idea of a brick-and-mortar before, but always within the realm of food and beverage. We hadn’t thought about selling goods, because that wasn’t quite in our purview.
We looked each other in the eye. We asked ourselves: "can we do this?" We thought of all the seemingly impossible things we'd pulled off in the past: filling a raw retail space with twenty-five tons of sand. Finding a venue with thirty-six hours till the first guest arrives. “Legally” shutting down an entire Manhattan block to hold an early morning Instameet, complete with parlor furniture, a beautiful breakfast, and an accompanying accordion player.
We said to each other: "Absolutely. We can absolutely do this."
And that was how we decided to open up our first retail experience, stay. Our doors were open for six great months; now that we've closed, we're looking back at the good, the not-as-good, and the oh dear god, what was that?! If you've ever thought about opening your own pop-up or are curious about wtf we were thinking embarking on a brick-and-mortar adventure on the opposite coast, read on.
So maybe we did things a little backwards here. We had the space, but we still needed a concept. We gathered in Amy’s Brooklyn kitchen to brainstorm names, thinking that would help inform the direction. We wanted to make a store that was a store, yes, but we also wanted to make a place for people to gather and hang out. We wanted to create a beautiful environment that was welcoming, a space for people to lounge on comfy couches without the pressure of purchasing things. Initially, this concept of an “anchor” attracted us. But we didn't want to pigeonhole ourselves into a nautical theme, so we took to the thesaurus. After browsing “anchor,” we discovered “stay”. To belong. A place to stay awhile. We said it out loud together. "Stay." We knew it was the one.
Once we had the concept behind the name, everything fell into place. The goal of our new store would be to create a place that was equally as inviting and collaborative as our ephemeral events. We would feature friends' handcrafted furniture as cozy places for visitors to hang out—with free wi-fi. We would inspire visitors with a rotating curation of artwork hanging from the ceilings and walls. We would stock our shelves with artisanal goods from our favorite makers, whom we love to support. And every now and then, we would host a party.
By January of 2017, we had a space and a name and an opening date set for March 1st. And so, the work began…
Twinkle lights overhead mark the path to our future store.
We had six weeks to gather enough inventory to fit a roughly 2,000 square foot space, which would be no small feat. Through the many events we’d hosted over the years, we’d filled our rolodex with a community of incredible artisans who created beautiful things like ceramic dishware, artfully woven rugs, and carefully crafted leather goods. But how does one stock such things? We turned to our friend and retail expert Krista Boyer for guidance.
Since we were first-time retailers sans up-front cash from investors, consignment was the only way to go. We created a deck that laid out our concept, including a mood board and a mission statement and a list of all our dream brands. This was key, as we had nothing but vibes to sell so early on. As we sent the deck out to all the makers we admired, some of whom we knew and others who we had yet to meet, the response was overwhelmingly positive. As in, “What a beautiful store! We’d LOVE to work with you!” or “Holy shit, you guys really know what you’re doing!” Though we had never opened a store before, we knew how to build a brand. It was terrifying nonetheless, and we were both relieved and encouraged with the positive responses. So that old adage proved true: fake it til you make it.
Our inventory quickly filled up. But we hadn’t even built our space. It was immediately overwhelming and we found ourselves buried in the details. When we spent far too much time mulling over whether a water bottle was more of a kitchen thing or more of an athletic-gear thing, we realized we needed an organizational tool for helping sort and keep track of all the things. We color-coded our vendors and their products in spreadsheets and checklists via AirTable, in anticipation of having our inventory delivered.
At this point we had one month to open. Perhaps, we thought, it was time to move onto design.
Just look at that empty space though!