Pop-up shipping container shops give small businesses a slice of West Loop
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A Chicago real estate development firm is offering businesses the chance to lease retail space in the West Loop for a significant discount — if they’re willing to set up shop in refurbished shipping containers.
Box Shops by Related, a pop-up marketplace just west of the Kennedy Expressway, opens Friday. The shops are a collaboration between Related Midwest, the developer that owns the vacant lot the shops will sit on, and Latent Design, an architecture firm that created Boombox — shipping containers used as pop-ups all over the city.
Businesses can apply to lease one of seven spaces in the makeshift market; six are 160 square feet while one is 320 square feet.
Rent starts at $1,000 per month, or $500 per week for shorter-term pop-ups.
Mike Ellch, vice president of development at Related Midwest, said the concept caters to local businesses who wouldn’t necessarily be interested or able to rent full-time retail space.
“We wanted to engage the community and provide a space for people who are from the area to come set up shop for a short amount of time,” Ellch said. “There’s something about the shipping containers that adds a cool feel to the marketplace.”
Ellch estimated businesses leasing space in Box Shops, 725 W. Randolph St., could save up to 90 percent compared to normal West Loop retail rent.
That’s good news for traditionally online-only stores such as Kido Chicago, which sells kids clothes featuring positive messages. Keewa Nurullah, who co-owns Kido with her husband Doug, said Box Shops gives small businesses like hers more affordable access to a customer base in an area of the city they may not otherwise operate in.
West Loop rents “are just so high that it doesn’t really give a small business like mine a chance to start up from there,” Nurullah said. “It’s good because … it’s a different customer that may not have heard of us that we can get exposure to.”
The most recent census data showed the West Loop had a median household income of around $100,000.
Kido will be at Box Shops through June.
Tiana Denine Harris, owner of digitalKENTE — who has booked a container for September — said the pop-up shop format allows her business to be mobile. Bronzeville-base digitalKENTE sells fashion, prints and home decor using designs and patterns based in African culture.
Harris said she can easily set up temporary shop and get facetime with potential customers and large retail clients.
“Customers can touch and feel your product,” Harris said. “It gives anybody from any neighborhood … the opportunity to get fresh eyes on their product or their service.”
Box Shops will remain open the rest of the year. Then, construction will start on the site’s permanent tenant — the Midwest’s first Equinox Hotel.
If the project is a success, Ellch said Related would consider bringing the Box Shops model to its other construction sites across the city. That includes 400 N. Lake Shore Dr. — once site of the Chicago Spire — and the 62-acre mixed-use development in the South Loop called The 78.
It is, Ellch said, “a little more engaging with the community than parking.”