The location is excellent and the rent – zero, for now. Smack in the middle of the centre of the German city of Bremen, three friends have opened a sustainable department store with products that are produced fairly, recycled and free of plastic.
There is also a cafe and room for events in the space, which measures about 600sq m in the middle of Bremen's pedestrian area.
"We want to have a space for encounters," says Urs Siedentop about the store, ekofair.
He and his business partners don't have to pay rent until 2022 as part of an inner-city programme of the Bremen Senate.
They won a contest for a new concept store, with their plans to create a space uniting innovative ideas and providers under one roof setting them apart from 32 other contestants.
Across Germany, politicians are looking for solutions to avoid vacancies in cities, with many looking into interim usage, says Sandra Wagner-Endres of the German Institute for Urbanism in Berlin.
In the last years, concept and pop-up stores have become a trend in large cities. Stores that open only for a limited time are part of the marketing to attract people to city centres, says Wagner-Endres.
This has a lot of perks: Start-ups can test their products, municipalities can liven up their cities and avoid vacancies, and building owners get paid rent. The fact that cities offer some spaces rent-free as part of development programmes can support the local and regional economy, the urban expert says.
The pandemic has increased the importance of pop-up stores, adds the Economy Ministry.
"Due to the coronavirus pandemic, visitor numbers in city centres have decreased significantly," a spokesperson says.Stationary retail has been hit especially hard, and as a consequence, many stores are dying or empty.
"Pop-up stores can diversify what's on offer and attract more visitors back to the city centres," the spokesperson says, adding that this also benefits other shops.The experiences in Bremen, which has decided to offer empty stores to people with special concepts, are being watched countrywide.
Bremen and other cities are participating in the Economy Ministry's City Laboratories initiative, testing innovative ideas and sharing their results.
"The ministry is in close contact with Bremen about the measures to increase the attractiveness of the city centre," the spokesperson says.Ekofair is advertised on the ministry website as an example of a concept that could give city centres new life.
Aside from this concept shop, there are three pop-up stores in Bremen that won a contest put on by the economy department, giving them the right to test their concepts for 10 months for free.
"We are super happy about this chance," says Max Maurer, who is selling 3D light objects and LED lightboxes together with two associates under the name m:pura. "Now we can show our things to a broad public."
Another pop-up store is bringing new fashion brands to Bremen, while a third sells Scandinavian second-hand fashion.
Bremen's economy department sees concept and pop-up stores as a symbol for the changing inner city.
"They stand for innovation, modernity and local/regional identity, as they are mostly run by the owners and offer local products," spokesperson Christoph Sonnenberg says. "There are hardly any disadvantages because the funding brings new, innovative concepts to the city that probably wouldn't have existed otherwise," he adds.
During the pandemic, pressure has developed in many cities to take action."We have to react quickly and decisively with different approaches for a successful restart of our cities after the coronavirus crisis," says Bremen's Economy Senator Kristina Vogt.Whether the concept pays off will become clear in the coming months.
"Without a follow-up use, the problem of temporary vacancies is not solved," says Wagner-Endres.
Siedentop of ekofair is confident.
"If it continues to develop like this, I am sure that we can become profitable soon and continue to operate the sustainable department store," he says. "We will speak with the landlord in autumn."
Maurer of m:pura is also hoping that his shop will not remain a classic pop-up store that only opens for a determinate time and then disappears again.
"Our goal is to remain in the city centre permanently." – dpa