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Popping up pop-up shops here today, gone tomorrow

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Cathy Dobson

Sarnia has been getting a taste of pop-up shop this summer. It’s a new take on an old idea.

We’re all familiar with bazaars and craft shows where goods are sold for a brief time before the venue is dismantled. Well, a pop-up shop is similar but different.

“It’s an opportunity for an online store or a new startup to display their product in a shop environment without having to commit to a storefront and all the expenses that go with one, like a lease,” explains Jess Butler, owner of the online gift store Red Balloon (

Jess Butler

Butler lives in Sarnia and launched Red Balloon in July 2016. Her business sells more than 100 different household items such as kitchen and patio accessories. She creates collections with four or five of her products, designing them for special occasions like birthdays or barbecues.

“To be honest, this is the first time my business partner and I have had a website,” she said. “We quickly found the Internet is a giant place. Pop-ups give us a chance to gain some attention in the community.”

Butler has a degree in curatorial practice and works an office job for now. But her heart is entrepreneurial, she said.  One day, she hopes Red Balloon will have a full-fledged storefront.

In the meantime, part of her marketing strategy involves pop-up shops where she can meet customers face-to-face and show them her products in person.

She held her first pop-up in July in space rented for three days at Front and George.

“The majority of people who came into the shop bought something and we saw traffic increase on the Red Balloon website afterward,” said Butler.

“For the time being, pop-ups work for us. They are a great way to see if our products sell in this market.”

Red Balloon plans to hold pop-ups every few months. The next one is this weekend, August 4 – 7 at the Sarnia Downtown Farmers and Artisans Market, 140 Christina St.

Another Sarnia-based online store making use of pop-ups is Made Collective (

Alison McKinnon is a co-owner and says the concept is attractive to new businesses because it allows a local presence without signing a lease.

“The only drawback is that if you are not on social media, it’s difficult to know about pop-ups,” said McKinnon.

Made Collective held pop-ups in a Christina Street storefront the first weekends of May and June when First Fridays were scheduled.  Both were so well attended some Made Collective product lines sold out.

New businesses, particularly retail, are on a steep learning curve, said McKinnon.

“For us, a pop-up is an opportunity to know our customers and see what is appealing.

“It really helps us fine-tune our selection,” she added.

“Pop-ups are also more work than we thought they’d be. Every time we do one, we create a new shopping experience with arrangements and window displays.

“That’s half the fun.”

Made Collective plans regular weekend pop-ups from Nov. 23 – Dec. 23 at 181 Christina St. The online store is also hosting a clothing swap and mini pop-up shop on Aug. 9 from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Got an interesting business story? Contact Cathy Dobson at [email protected] or 226-932-0985.







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