New Haven residents have the unique opportunity to shop at a hip downtown boutique of less than 40 square feet during the first two weeks of this month.
Located at 55 Church St. in the Ninth Square, PopUp 55 is a former ATM vestibule turned storefront that houses businesses for one to two weeks. Project Storefronts, a program that works to connect storefronts with entrepreneurial vendors, operates the store. From Oct. 1–13 the space is featuring “Strange Ways,” a curated shop launched by Alex Dakoulas that promotes small brands and independent artists.
Store merchandise pieces range from clothing to accessories to drink covers, with prices ranging from $5 to $80. Dakoulas described the business as having an “unmasked style,” for customers who have unique tastes and are interested in products beyond those available at malls and large retail stores.
Under the Project Storefronts system, landlords either donate the space or work out a reasonable rent agreement, and Project Storefronts provides financial assistance to the entrepreneurs in the form of rent and utilities payments. It can offer storefronts for three to six months, as well as PopUp 55 for one to two weeks.
“Getting the space was huge,” Dakoulas said. “It didn’t cost me any money … and I had total freedom.”
The idea for Strange Ways has been a long time coming. Dakoulas has vast experience in design and marketing, as he once owned an apparel company and worked as a footwear designer for Puma and Converse.
He debuted the store at the East Rock Festival on Sept. 13 and then established an online store five days later.
“[My work experience] made me realize I would love to control how stuff gets out there, whether I’m making it or someone else is,” Dakoulas said.
Dakoulas found the PopUp 55 space rather serendipitously. After walking by it in late July, he reached out online to Julius Stone, the project coordinator for Project Storefronts, which led to more in-depth, one-on-one conversations.
Afterwards, Dakoulas filled out an application and, after further conversation, was granted the space.
“We started talking on Twitter,” Stone said. “It was probably the best use of social media I’ve experienced.”
Stone added that he was drawn to Dakoulas because of his design background and great sense of marketing. He said Dakoulas’s use of the space was particularly innovative and fun.
Perhaps the only drawback to the space is the location, according to Dakoulas. Situated on the back of 9th square, the store can be easily overlooked due to its small size and proximity to a bus stop. Dakoulas noted the biggest obstacle was getting people in the store from the street, adding that the bus traffic walking by was not often very interested.
“I can’t lie and say [the location] hasn’t been a challenge,” Stone said.
Despite the somewhat unfortunate location, Dakoulas has been pleased with the shop and the publicity he’s gained from it.
Though some visitors have had hit or miss reactions, Dakoulas reported he was pleased with the number of products sold.
“It’s gone better than I expected,” Dakoulas said. “Either you get [the product] or you don’t … and some people have definitely loved it.”
While some who walked in the shop did not grasp the idea of artistry-based products, Dakoulas said he still gained a new customer base, and most reactions around the store were generally positive.
Many Elm City residents were also excited by the idea of a pop-up shop and the opportunity to discover new vendors that it presents.
Resident Elise Killer said she hoped Strange Ways would reside in the space for longer, and that she liked that pop-up shops are “friendly and intimate.” Rachel Levy, who operates a stall on the corner of Chapel and York Streets, said that she had heard of the pop-up shop and would be interested in pursuing the space.
While Dakoulas’s ultimate goal is to open up a permanent shop, he is looking to continue to do pop-up events around New Haven until that happens.
His use of the space will end Oct. 13,and he hopes to expand his business in the future, while still adhering to his business manifesto of using American-made, recycled content and working with LGBT artists.
“I think that if you’re going to run a business, you need to stand for something,” Dakoulas said. “I’d like to run a business that cares about what it’s doing.”
Strange Ways will next have an event on Oct. 30th at Fuel Coffee Shop, where it will showcase art and merchandise.