Pop-Ups: Here Now, Gone on Labor Day

Empty storefronts will again line Main Street
Beth Buccini, owner and founder of Kirna Zabete, has a house in Amagansett and opened a pop-up on East Hampton’s Newtown Lane this summer. Durell Godfrey

Here in East Hampton, with pop-up shops opening inside of pop-up shops, it is safe to say we’ve officially reached peak pop-up.

“We are a pop-up, and we will de-pop at the end of the summer,” Jared Williams, the sales leader at Aquazzura, said last week.

As with most local pop-ups, the footwear boutique (which sells $495 espadrilles, $675 lace-up flats, and $785 heels at its Main Street location) opened in June, with plans to shutter come September.

“When you’re at the beach for the summer, you want a shoe that you can walk around in,” Mr. Williams said. “Flats are doing really well for us. But if it’s more towards the weekend, shoppers are definitely buying heels for parties.”

The vacation-themed outpost, with its pineapple-festooned heels and flamingo-patterned Matthew William­son wallpaper, also operates a Madison Avenue store. “A lot of our clients are out here for the summer — and we thought we’d join them,” Mr. Williams said.

Though vacationers may love pop-up shops — say, stopping in to peruse high-end merchandise on a cloudy summer day — many in the year-round community find them an increasing nuisance, transforming downtown East Hampton into a veritable ghost town once the temperatures drop.

Robert Rattenni owns six commercial properties in East Hampton Village. In his more than 25 years as a landlord, he said he hasn’t had any vacancies.

“So far, I haven’t had to do any pop-ups. And I certainly try my best to avoid ever putting myself in that position,” Mr. Rattenni said.

J. Crew and Restoration Hardware, both of which operate stores on Main Street, are two of his long-term, year-round tenants. In general, he said that most pop-ups sign six-month leases, though many stay open only a fraction of that time.

“It’s not good for business over all, for both the landlords as well as the village business community,” he said. “There’s no incentive for them to try and integrate within the community. They’re gone as quickly as they come.”

On Main Street, just a few doors down from Aquazzura, Vilebrequin (which sells $295 swim trunks) opened a 315-square-foot pop-up store on June 11, with plans to close in mid-to-late September. Next season, it plans to reopen again in the same location. For 16 years, the company, founded in Saint-Tropez, France (and which sells matching father-and-son swimsuits), has operated a Southampton store.

Nearby, on Newtown Lane, Sweaty Betty, a British line of so-called athleisure clothing (which sells $160 workout leggings), popped up inside of what was formerly Scoop NYC after that shop abruptly closed last month. Sweaty Betty now shares the space with another pop-up store, Tenet, which also has a Southampton location.

Sweaty Betty is rapidly expanding, with three stand-alone stores in New York City, one in Greenwich, Conn., and two in Los Angeles. Its recent foray into East Hampton is the company’s first-ever pop-up experiment. It opened on July 14 and will close after Labor Day.

“From a brand standpoint, the Hamptons have always been an interest,” said Melissa Sgaglione Seganti, Sweaty Betty’s senior public relations manager. In particular, she cited its location near boutique workout studios, including Tracy Anderson and AKT In Motion. “It was a win-win.”

In terms of real estate, Hal Zwick, the director of commercial real estate at Town and Country, said this summer’s proliferation of pop-ups is but the latest sign of a weak retail market.

In recent months, Mr. Zwick said, it wasn’t uncommon for national retailers to suddenly pull out of deals mere hours before signing leases. “They figure they don’t want to spend $200,000 to $250,000, if retail isn’t doing well, for only 10 weeks of business.”

Increasingly, commercial leases lasting three-to-five years are a thing of the past. Just as residential rentals stretching from Memorial Day to Labor Day have been disrupted by shorter-term rentals, the local retail market has followed suit. “June isn’t the month it used to be,” Mr. Zwick said, adding that parking spaces could still be found on Newtown Lane midweek. He predicted that the next five weeks, from now until Labor Day, will be a boom time for local retailers — however short or long their stay.

Mr. Zwick is finding that smaller retailers who may operate one or two stores are stepping in to fill the vacancies. “They don’t have the overhead, the bureaucracy,” he said, citing Anthony Thomas Melillo, or ATM, a clothing store that popped up on Newtown Lane next door to Tesla.

Though many have assumed that the recent addition of a Tesla “gallery,” which opened over Memorial Day weekend, is a pop-up, Sonja Koch, a communications coordinator with the firm, said otherwise. After experimenting with a pop-up last summer in Southampton, the company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., decided to open a brick-and-mortar gallery where customers can learn more about electric vehicles (the Model X starts at $74,000).

“While summer is a great time to capture people visiting from the city and all over, there is a strong year-round community that we’ll be supporting by keeping the store open year round,” Ms. Koch wrote in an email. “This gallery is not a pop-up.”

Last week, inside the Kirna Zabete store on Newtown Lane, which was formerly Gail Rothwell, the atmosphere was high fashion, only with a slightly more laid-back, beach-y aesthetic. The pop-up opened on July 15 and plans to close on Sept. 15.

Beth Buccini, its owner and founder, first opened a SoHo location 17 years ago. “Our goal has always been to have the most important designers of today and tomorrow,” said Ms. Buccini, who has stocked her East Hampton outpost with Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Chloé, but also seasonal items to be worn now, such as $500 maxi-dresses by Lisa Marie Fernandez and $700 caftans by Madeline Weinrib.

With a house in Amagansett, Ms. Buccini is familiar with the South Fork and has long debated opening a pop-up shop. “This space was available and it was the perfect opportunity,” she said, opposite a wall of Céline, Fendi, and Saint Laurent handbags.

“People have a real hunger to shop out here,” Ms. Buccini said. “So far, the response has been tremendous. We’ll consider doing it again next summer.”