What Happened When Spring Street Took Over a Raw Retail Space for Six Months
By Amy Virginia Buchanan and Patrick Janelle
Things were not always this orderly in the shop.
In last week’s installment on our pop-up stay, we discussed how and why we ended up with a raw retail space in LA. This week, we talk about the design process and buildout, leading to opening.
So we had one month to open and nothing but the keys to our shop. Cool.
When it comes to outfitting a pop-up, most people go with temporary installs, simple room dividers, Ikea shelves, and folding tables. Not us. We had a huge, entirely raw space to work with, with exposed pipes, cement block walls, and visible electrical boxes. This was not exactly cozy or welcoming, which was the vibe we were going for. We wanted to create something that felt like coming home, so we went in the opposite direction of makeshift and decided to build. We envisioned a lived-in, light-filled space that felt pleasant to simply be in. But envisioning something is very, very different from executing it.
As we so often do, we looked to our friend and architect extraordinaire, Severine Tatangelo. Severine is the principal at Studio PCH, the design and development firm that has architected the Nobu properties. The Studio PCH team worked with us day and night to put together designs for a store that met our creative dreams (and demands), stayed within our budget (fingers crossed), and was just as much fun for the both of us. We are, after all in the business of collaboration. After three weeks, we landed on a design that was not only beautiful, but exciting. It felt like us.
But how were we supposed to make our store go from an 11in. x 15in. sheet of paper to a three-dimensional, functional, physical space? And with just a little over a week left till opening our doors?
For such impossible tasks, we always turn to Josh Littlefield, who implemented Spring Street’s volunteer program when it began over five years ago and has done so much else for us ever since. Josh and his colleague Brandon have made our quirkiest, most difficult building dreams come true, whether that’s creating an eight-foot, double-sided bar complete with shelving and purse hooks for a spontaneous speakeasy or installing a usable sink and kitchenette in our office — that has no access to running water. Josh and Brandon worked fourteen-hour days to bring our design to life, but not without sacrifices: due to time and budgetary constraints, as well as complicated angles that didn’t play nicely with high ceilings and the myriad textures and surface materials in the space, we compromised on the height of some dividers and scrapped our plans for a wall-sized curtain (that would cost more than the entire build’s budget).
Studio PCH designer Troy Sayakumane was the creative brains behind these beauties.
Josh and Brandon, who drilled and dry-walled the place to life. And a whole bunch of dust.
So we’re building and we’re building and the place is covered in drywall dust, when our products start coming in. We had to act fast to find some storage; fortunately, fellow Unique Camp alum and Matte Black founder Chelsea Matthews graciously hosted dozens of packages and boxes in her nearby office while we continued to build. Though our days contained many heated conversations and practices in apologies, our nights typically ended in dance parties and indulgent trips for late-night sausages to Wurstkuche. It was important to remember to have fun.
Speaking of fun, we got exactly what you’d expect when we put out a call for painters on Craigslist: everyone from a Ukrainian watercolor artist and a “subcontractor” with questionable ethics to a professional house painter arrived to help. Some were extremely helpful, others...not so much. Between rounds of drywall sanding and paint drying, we hunted down vinyl printers and neon sign-makers who could accomplish the sort of 24-hour turnaround we needed.
At the end of our ten-day building period, we marvelled at our newly constructed store. As we offered praise and gratitude to Josh and Brandon, Josh said: “Yeah, when I was watching YouTube videos about how to build walls while on the plane ride over here, I really didn’t know if this was going to work. But it turned out okay!”
In the midst of all this, we embarked on a few-week-long hiring process. We treated it a bit like casting a play — a thing that’s in our wheelhouse. We wanted cheerful, enthusiastic team members who would represent our brand accordingly. Wherever might those people be? Turns out: mainly on Instagram, and on our friend's creative networking site, ilovecreatives.com. We assembled a fantastic in-store team who was already familiar with our brand ethos.
We were almost ready to open our doors. But some somewhat crucial things like licenses, permits, and bank accounts took slightly longer than anticipated. We spent the last few days before opening frantically running around, collecting plants and stressing about how we were going to get all that inventory out of those boxes and onto the floor. Our saviors, the brothers Nate and Kirk Mueller, shipped us iPads fully configured with Square Payments, and a comprehensive Post-it Notes tutorial that made it possible for us to sell all that inventory. But that business license, the one we needed to operate in the state of California? With less than two days left to open, we were still wondering whether it would actually be granted or not.