December 16, 2014

7 Tips for Creating a Preservation Pop-Up Shop

There’s no better spot to peep Warby Parker’s newest spectacle collection or score those budget-breaking, limited edition Jimmy Choos than in a trendy pop-up shop. The concept is simple: Insert yourself into a temporary space that puts new eyes on your brand and new minds on your mission, and see what you can accomplish.

So if a pop-up can sell merchandise, why can’t it sell an idea or a campaign?

That’s exactly what the National Trust’s project team thought when they created a preservation-themed pop-up shop in Cincinnati’s Fountain Square this past fall. The goal was to promote the Yes on 8 campaign, aimed at convincing Hamilton County voters to approve a sales tax issue to save the city’s Union Terminal (one of our National Treasures). The campaign ultimately succeeded -- the measure passed with 61% of the vote.

The experience showed us the value of having a physical presence around an issue -- and also taught us a few tips and techniques for making a pop-up work. Here are seven factors to consider as you plan your own successful preservation pop-up.

The interior of the Yes on 8 pop-up for the campaign to save Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Goals and Strategy

Internal goals give you a starting point, justify your concept to management, and allow you to measure success. For example: how many people do you want to reach? How long do you want the pop-up to be active?

Remember to be flexible. Get into the pop-up and work for a week. If your initial strategies fall flat, create a new strategy for reaching your goals.

An external goal for your campaign and a timeline for action motivate people to participate. It’s also important to give potential participants a roadmap for getting involved and to identify elected officials or other key decision makers you want your campaign to influence.


In Cincinnati, the National Trust chose Fountain Square as a location because it hosted the biggest cross section of Hamilton County voters during the day whose support would be crucial to the campaign. The site also acted as a central base of operations.

Consider where your target audience will be during hours of operation and what spot will draw the most foot traffic. Look for potential partners or organizations that might support your mission and would be willing to donate space. And no matter where you end up, make sure your storefront is visible, accessible, and inviting.

It’s also important to be aware of city and state permit processes. Things like campaigning locations and even window signage and alcohol distribution may need to be approved by authorities.

Cincinnati's Fountain Square was chosen as the location because it hosted the biggest cross section of Hamilton County voters during the day.

Pop-Up Function and Design

Do you want your pop-up to act as a base of operations? As a giant billboard for your cause? As a space for gathering, organizing, and educating supporters?

No matter your goal, having interactive educational, entertainment, and campaign support opportunities for walk-ins is a must. In Cincinnati, the National Trust painted a wall with educational information about the Yes on 8 campaign, added photo cutouts and a memory-sharing wall, and brought in a local folk band for a concert.

Having images of Union Terminal itself and furniture that could easily be rearranged to accommodate events was also essential.


The build out of the space will probably be the most expensive part. Consider how long the space should be open to justify time and money you’re investing in it. Will you reach enough people? Is there enough staff or volunteer time available to make it happen?

When furnishing your space or hosting events, look for like-minded organizations that might support your cause. Caterers, local hardware stores, and other vendors may be willing to work with you on cutting costs.

“Once we told local vendors what we were working on -- that you want to save whatever building this is -- most of them gave us a discount in some way,” says Grant Stevens, manager of Community Outreach, who was part of the National Trust’s effort in Cincy.

Coffee shops, donut shops, and restaurants often gave the National Trust team discounts for larger events, while office supply stores gave printed items at cost.

The Yes on 8 pop-up held a number of events aimed at fostering community engagement.


It’s important to find a partner as interested in the success of the campaign as you are. Search for partners like other local and regional preservation groups, community groups, and other organizations whose experience and expertise can compliment that of your organization.

In Cincinnati, the National Trust was fortunate enough to have partners like the My Union Terminal Campaign Committee and the Cincinnati Museum Center. Cincinnati Preservation Association and the Cincinnati Preservation Collective were also key partners, providing on-the-ground support for logistics and helping to promote events. The campaign also partnered with other local businesses to help distribute “Yes on 8” materials, including food trucks, coffee shops, and farmer’s markets.

“Having that conversation about what gaps your organization and the pop-up can fill in the campaign is an important part of any partnership,” says Stevens.

Also, start planning with potential secondary partners earlier. In the National Trust’s case, the folk concert in Cincinnati could have been even more successful with more lead time and expanded marketing.


…as in “Stuff We All Get.” Stickers, postcards, coasters -- spreading your brand and your message is paramount to drawing more people to your cause. Swag also gives people something tangible to walk away with. And, hey, everybody loves free stuff.

“Having that one piece of information that gave a clear idea of what we were advocating for, why people should support it, and where people could go to get more information about it, I think that’s the most powerful thing we handed out to people,” says Stevens. “Our postcard gave them quick information, but then it gave them a chance to go and explore more if they were interested in it.”

Buttons, like the ones above, and other swag can be effective tools for spreading your brand and message.

Web Presence

For the National Trust, having a web presence for the pop-up was a key factor in the campaign’s success. The team created a WordPress site within the larger Yes on 8 campaign website where they could generate interest in the pop-up ahead of time, post photos and short blog pieces at critical moments, and share upcoming events.

The site also provided the public avenues to take action by pledging their support, ordering yard signs, finding their polling place, or learning more about volunteering opportunities with the campaign.

And of course, amplifying messaging and event details through our social media outlets and asking our partners to do the same proved an effective way to get the word out.

David Weible was the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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