Fourth PopUp Denver Business Finally Pops Up on Mall, Two Gone

Tea with Tae is sticking around.
Tea with Tae is sticking around. Katrina Leibee
Tae O'Dorisio wasn't thinking about a brick-and-mortar store when she launched her online tea business, Tea with Tae, but today she operates a bustling tea, coffee and pastry shop at 700 16th Street.

This spring, the Downtown Denver Partnership introduced PopUp Denver, a program designed to give select businesses free space on the 16th Street Mall. Of the four businesses that opened, Tea with Tae is the only one still around; its lease runs through February, but O'Dorisio hopes to stay there longer. The other two stores that opened over the summer, Travel Posters, which sold products with artist Blair Hamill's designs of famous locations, and Gallery 16/Guerilla Garden, a graffiti art installation by Jolt, both left after their three-month leases ended.

A fourth pop-up, Image En Mouvement, just activated its outdoor art installation at 640 16th Street this week. The installation shows videos of dancers on the windows of the storefront; some of the windows also have banners with big printed pictures of the dancers. At a test launch in July, owners Jennifer Tisdale and Henry Graham tested an early version of the installation, and they've been working on the logistics since then. Now the videos will change monthly, showcasing different episodes in a series that tells a larger story; they plan to continue the installation into the new year.

Museum for Black Girls, another business picked for the pop-up program, hasn't opened yet. The museum was assigned a space in the Denver Dry Goods building, but it didn't have a bathroom. PopUp Denver is looking for a new spot for the museum, perhaps in the same structure.

According to Sarah Wiebenson, DDP director of economic development, the program has been a learning experience for everyone involved. "I think because it was a pilot, we really were trying to keep it open-ended as to what success looked like," she says. "Getting five property owners to participate was a success; it was a wonderful surprise that Tea with Tae also wanted to stay on."

Blair and Lauri Hamill, the owners of Travel Posters, say they decided not to keep the store after the lease ended because there wasn't enough traffic on the mall. "The customer-to-sale ratio was good, but there were not enough customers coming in the door," Lauri says. Mondays and Fridays were particularly slow, Blair says.
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Travel Posters has closed up shop.
Katrina Leibee
Even with free rent, it was difficult to keep up with the cost of electricity, employees and miscellaneous fees. "We knew the numbers we needed to hit, and we weren't hitting that," Lauri says. Another challenge was staffing the spot, a challenge they discussed with the DDP.

Still, the couple says they enjoyed seeing the customers who did come into the store; their products continue to be available online.

Unlike the Hamills, Tae and her husband, Rod O'Dorisio, say they've been pleased with the level of in-person business they've gotten on the mall. "We've been growing every single month," Tae says. "Now that it's cooler and with convention season, it has really picked up." They think hot drinks will be a big draw in November and December, and their tea selections and bento boxes make popular gift items, Tae adds. The store also just launched mobile ordering to help with the lines, which have sometimes been out the door.

The DDP is planning for another round of pop-ups next year, and will start accepting applications in February. The program wants to put new enterprises in the spaces previously occupied by Travel Posters and Guerilla Garden, create a kitchen incubator where multiple chefs can access the kitchen and bring different foods downtown, create a collective store where multiple independent creators can sell their products, and add five new spaces with short-term leases for pop-up stores.

"This time around, we really want to give everyone the best chance of converting to long-term tenants as possible," Wiebenson says. "Startup rates for success are challenging enough as it is; we’re going to be providing not only space but also wraparound services."

The chosen businesses will get design, marketing and permitting support as well as training on safety and security, as well as more financial-planning guidance. "Even the spaces that are provided with no base rent, they do need to make enough to pay for operating expenses," Wiebenson says. "We want to see that they have the ability to meet those revenue projections to cover those costs." 
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Katrina Leibee, a recent graduate of Colorado State University, is an editorial fellow at Westword, covering politics, business and culture.
Contact: Katrina Leibee

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