On the Lower East Side, one group has been popping up all over empty retail spaces.
Made in the Lower East Side—miLES for short—is aiming to take advantage of underused spaces through a new Kickstarter campaign, “miLES Storefront Transformer,” beginning Thursday.
In an area of New York City where 250,000 square feet of unused shop space is valued at $20 million per year, miLES has transformed over 200 vacant storefronts into multi-use spaces as a solution to high real estate costs for small businesses and as a space to highlight local creativity.
The organization works to innovate the real estate market and design by mediating between creative people and empty storefronts, bringing new businesses into changing neighborhoods. After a successful trial run earlier this year, miLES has launched its new online campaign to raise funds for seven week-long pop-ups. Each of the curated pop-ups, ranging from a museum to a classroom to a restaurant, features the space’s potential and that of miLES’ own Storefront Transformer, which includes a set of versatile furnishings designed to accommodate any pop-up.
“The community in a sense … is the entrepreneur with a project, artists who want to showcase, or community activists with a project,” said Eric Ho, the founder of miLES and an architect by training. With this creative audience in mind, the Kickstarter campaign invites people to consider how the Storefront Transformer might design spaces in which to work, learn, and connect.
Ho called the campaign a “multifaceted way to engage people and to see what they’re in interested in as projects and to see how people will innovate storefronts.”
This past summer, miLES had a successful trial run at a storefront on East 4th Street to test the viability of short-term rental. During that time, it received over 100 pop-up requests and showcased a variety of innovative usages for the space, such as offices, classrooms, shops, design festivals, and even a film festival. “This pilot project has proved that there is a lot of demand; now we’re fine-tuning,” Ho said.
While many pop-up shop projects are already in place, miLES its different in that it specifically targets the creative community with the express purpose of creating “vibrant community hubs,” according to Ho. He hopes that in the future it will gain enough momentum to inspire a collaborative community of pop-ups, using what he called the “creative collective power of small operators to get synergy to do something bigger.”
The Kickstarter campaign will be active from Sept. 19 to Oct. 19 to fund the longer-term pop-ups scheduled to open between Nov. 4 and Dec. 22.