I've been around retail my whole life. For as long as I can remember, my dad made a living by leasing malls. Naturally, his company prefers long-term contracts. So I've always seen temporary stores, or pop-up shops, as second rate.
That changed when I met El Lunay. El owns HERE. a pop-up shop and it's anything but second rate. On her short-term shelves, El brings anywhere from 50-80 local artists, per shop, into the public eye. The selection is thoughtful, fun, and oh-so local.
HERE. is a store that opens in & around Annapolis three to five times a year for two to three weeks at a time. It's packed full of local artists and one of the best places to get gifts for any occasion. When you walk into HERE., you're all but guaranteed a selection of things you can't find anywhere else.
It all started when a friend in California told El about a boutique pop-up shop she was absolutely loving. El had seen Halloween costume and Christmas decoration pop-ups in the mall, but never a boutique, local store.
The idea nagged at her like a persistent telemarketer. Around November of 2012, El texted her best friend friend Amy, "I have this idea. You need to do it with me."
They made a business plan and reached out to some crafty friends. And those friends reached out to their friends. To complement the artists she already knew, El used Etsy to forge partnerships with local artists.
When El and Amy launched the first shop, 20 artists were represented.
Finding the artists was easy. Getting a lease was not. Most building owners don't want to sign a three week lease. But they got lucky with their first landlord and were able to sign a short term lease on Spa Circle. Because they were figuring it out as they went along, they pretty much sat alone from 6 – 9 PM daily, unable to change the hours on their sign.
As time went on, finding a location got easier and sometimes landlords with vacancy even reach out to them. HERE.'s been invited to pop-up IN Maryland Hall twice, once at the Carroll House, and even in an operating hair salon in Cape St. Claire!
Short term leases with El are actually a pretty cool deal for landlords. For Christmas 2019, HERE. was on Maryland Avenue when a customer came in and seemed interested in the space. El let her in after hours one night to take measurements. Now she's the full-time tenant.
Getting El's customers in the door of an otherwise vacant space can show it to prospective renters in a whole new light.
Getting the word out
El is a social media warrior. HERE.'s bigger on Instagram than Facebook now. But when she started, Facebook was a mature eight years old compared to Instagram's two. El and Amy would post on Facebook, tag all their friends, invite them to like the page, and then work the shop all day. After the weekend, it was back to the day job.
Eventually, Amy's main gig gave her an ultimatum. She couldn't do both. She made the hard choice to leave. And while El and Amy are no longer business partners, they are still friends.
Now, El's all in on HERE. Since they were already small business owners (El and husband Sam operate a marine hardware business out of their home), Sam didn't think El was crazy when she wanted to open a temporary retail store.
El thinks it's even inspired Sam to explore his creative side. He's now pursuing stage acting as an aside.
These days, it's rare to see HERE. uncrowded. And the customers that came into the first shop? They're still around.
El knows them by name. She's been invited to their weddings. She's seen them have babies. They're family. El's literally been included in family group text messages to announce new grandchildren!
It's not hard to see why El creates these connections. During her 2020 Christmas shop I sent her a message about an ornament I saw on a HERE. Instagram story. I didn't even ask her to save it. I just said it would be a great gift for my sister.
One week later when I made it into the shop, I asked if they had any left. At first she said no. But then she said, "Are you Ryan? I saved one for you!" You can tell how much she cares about her customers.
It's not all chic earrings and save the dates though. As any business owner knows, it's not if problems will come. It's when.
One time at a West Annapolis pop-up, the toilet overflowed every time someone flushed. With a temporary lease, El doesn't put any real money into renovations. And landlords don't put much effort into a monthlong lease either. So up went the out-of-order sign.
Another time, a pigeon flew into a Main Street shop. El had to call Amy from her regular job for help. Using the shop signs, they shooed the unwanted customer (possibly the only one in HERE. history) out the door.
All about local
El also loves to make partnerships with her neighbors. When it's not a global pandemic, she likes to partner with nearby restaurants to give a discount to HERE. customers. Think: bring your THERE. card (after checking out, HERE.), get 20% off your bill or a free appetizer. Regulars know the drill. When a new location opens, they come in and ask El, "So where are we eating after we shop today?"
HERE. also does giveback days, every shop, where El picks a local charity and donates a portion of a full day's profits.
To El, HERE. isn't just a business. It's her way of connecting with and supporting the Annapolis community.
What's your favorite restaurant in Annapolis?
Ugh this is the hardest ... THERE ARE SO MANY! Vin 909 comes to mind first. Then in no real order ~ Fox's Den, Vida Taco, The Market House, Metropolitan, Sailor Oyster Bar
In Eastport it's also Forward Brewing & Bread & Butter Kitchen
Who are some of your favorite small businesses to support in Annapolis?
Lilac Bijoux, Mango & Main, Rasa Juice Shop, Vignette Home + Design, Mills Fine Wine & Spirits, Annebeth's
What do you love to do when you're not working?
Spend time with my family & friends - preferably outside/on the water, with charcuterie, bubbles and some good music. I also like to take long walks, do yoga & read.
El's holiday pop-up "HERE. come the holidays" is open daily November 18 - December 21 at 4 Church Circle on West Street. Stop by and see El. You'll find some super cool local goods and you might just make a lifelong friend.
You might only be able to visit El's store a few times a year. But hereapopupshop.com is open anytime!
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