Twenty years ago, Wynwood was a place where Puerto Rican families lived and warehouses offered cheap deals on stuff. If you wanted to open a creative business just after the turn of the millennium, you could do it in Wynwood where an artsy community was sprouting. It grew so strong that it attracted tastemakers and place-makers and their hip shops and bars. Before long, the cost of setting up shop in this neighborhood got out of hand for those who made it such a special space.
Many art spots and local retailers have slowly trickled out of Wynwood. “We aren’t casualties of gentrification; we’re the victims of our own success,” wrote Kareem Tabsch, whose O Cinema location in Wynwood will soon be replaced with real estate development, in a recent op-ed for the Miami Herald. “Yet there is still a pang of knowing that with each passing day the ‘Art’ part of the Wynwood Arts District keeps eroding.”
O Cinema will live on thanks to a recently received pledge of $1.5 million from the Knight Foundation to create an indie film center. But the same can’t be said for many other entrepreneurs who began in Wynwood or who want to start up there. Luckily for some, a new option has “popped up” for retailers and brands looking for temporary and more affordable spaces to sell their products in this area swarming with interest. Spaces like those crafted by Bubble City pop-up.
This hip gathering of retailers, eateries, and activations is set in a 20,000-square-foot open garden space located near Mana Wynwood. It’s populated by transparent structures that can be rented for indefinite time periods and customized to fit your purpose. These warm-weather igloos aren’t just hot during Art Basel when demand for access to a hip audience is high; they’re here to keep the district relevant year-round. For instance, one bar that planned to stay only for Basel, Proyecto Tulum, is now a permanent business in the bustling market.
Bubble City owner Richard Lasry studied architecture, but it was his father’s patented and prize-winning design from the ‘70s that inspired his newest endeavor. About five years ago, working as an event planner, Lasry decided to offer a client a sturdier and slicker-looking setup than a tent, so he made his own bubble with aluminum and a kind of bulletproof plastic. The event was a hit and his structure gained a widespread audience by word of mouth.
Lasry was introduced to Moishe Mana, who owns event space Mana and a vast property in Wynwood. The developer offered him the land to create a social club. “Here’s your chance, Richard,” Mana told Lasry. “Here’s this land. Show me what you can do.” Lasry, unfortunately, ran out of money before the project came to fruition. “I had two choices: I could walk away or make lemonade out of lemons,” he recalls. “I chose to stay and convert this location into an urban market that turned into Bubble City.”
With his space secured, Lasry needed clients. He was working to provide the Herzog & de Meuron-designed parking complex 1111 Lincoln Road with wind walls on its drafty seventh floor when a representative introduced him to folks at the “Airbnb of retail,” Storefront. “We started in March. By June, I already had 15 or 20 rentals,” he says of the fruitful pairing. “These were the most incredible, unique people that you don’t see anymore… because people can’t afford to be out in the marketplace anymore. The malls have priced out all of these people.” Not only were people selling wares, but big brands also wanted to book bubbles for activations. “It’s a worry-free, hassle-free situation,” he says.
Asked about the vibe, he says, “It’s definitely not a flea market look… High-end doesn’t mean expensive; it’s just the presentation. We are very cutting edge with the new types of designs we offer… The new cutting edge is that today you have real estate that is mobile, that you can take with you,” he explains.
From his Parisian office at Storefront, CEO Mohamed Haouache explained his company’s function in this alternative retail and event space experience. “Miami is a very exciting city for brands and retailers,” he says. The company receives more requests for spaces in South Florida than they can fill.
Of Storefront, Haouache says, “The business model came from the idea that there is a need for an Airbnb-type marketplace for short-term retail.” Spaces are available across the world, from Paris, Hong Kong, and Singapore to New York, Miami, and beyond. The website notes that the average cost of opening a Storefront pop-up is $2,000 and the average cost of opening a brick-and-mortar store is $98,000. It’s faster to set up and overhead is less. They work with 10,000 brands, companies like Converse — which had a recent pop-up in New York only two minutes away from its brick-and-mortar store. Haouache calls it all low risk. In addition, he sees companies “using their marketing budget to activate empty spaces… Instead of spending your money on newspaper ads, you activate your brand with a pop-up store.”
Pop-ups do have some drawbacks. For instance, there’s no guarantee a location will remain friendly to temporary tenants, so you never know how long you have in a spot. Some people want to set down roots and open a store in a space they own. But when the alternative is holding out hope of finding affordable real estate in increasingly in-demand Wynwood, alternative spots like Bubble City start to look pretty great to small businesses that want to plug into the area’s guaranteed audience. Can a place like Bubble City save Wynwood from becoming a tired and overcommercialized former hot spot like CocoWalk? Only time will tell. In the meantime, peek into one of these clear structures and meet your local makers.
Bubble City. 270 NW 23rd St., Miami.