Last year at about this time, I ran an interview with a friend of mine named Joe Posch about a pop-up (temporary) shop that he was opening in Detroit. Well, the business, called Hugh, is back again this Christmas season, and I tracked down Joe to find out what was new, and what, if anything, he learned last year. Here’s out conversation:
Mark: Most people drag their junk to the curb in order to get rid of it. You open a store. Why is that?
Joe: Thank God people get rid of their junk or I’d have nothing to sell. There is no doubt most things people buy are destined for the landfill (or the incinerator, depending on where you live), but a lot of great stuff becomes useless and someone has to be there to make sure it passes into appreciative hands. I’m just doing my part to reuse and recycle. You know, saving the world.
On a serious note, vintage has always been a part of what I’ve sold, but it’s actually the most fun. And I like finding cool stuff that isn’t mass-produced, at least not anymore.
Mark: So, what have you got for us this year at Hugh? And, if I could ask you another question, why did you decide to do it again this holiday season?
Joe: This year the concept for Hugh is tweaked a little bit. Since the original store was inspired by the classic bachelor style as embodied in Esquire and Playboy magazines in the 50s and 60s, I thought about what Hugh (the hypothetical proprietor, not necessarily Hefner) might be doing for the holidays and decided obviously he’d be on a swank European ski holiday. So this time around classic bachelor pad style meets Scandinavian chic.
This time there is a lot more vintage stuff, partially because people responded so well to it last time and partially because vintage is a lot easier to sell online than new if it is left over after the store closes. The emphasis is on drinking and entertaining with style… a lot of cool vintage barware, classy decorative items and, in a nod to the wonderful local foodie thing going on right now, lots of great serving items. Plenty of Danish stainless steel or teak items.
There are two reasons I did Hugh again this year. The real impetus is that my friend who owns the Iodent Building called me up and asked if I was interested in using the space for December, an idea we’d thrown around last spring. And the second reason is that I have been compulsively vintage hunting for the past six months and our mutual friend Laura Abraham told me if I don’t start selling it then I’m a hoarder.
Make that three reasons: I did have a lot of inquiries about bringing Hugh back, and it is exciting to do something special like this.
Mark: Have your thoughts on pop-up retail changed at all since our interview last year? And, do you think you’d ever go back to regular, full-time, year-round retail again?
Joe: I still think it is a great way for an underserved area to create interest and excitment. And it is an excellent way to test new concepts and activate a vacant retail space.
But if I can be honest, I am feeling a little guilty about my pop-up this year. My friends in the retail game in Detroit spend the whole year working on it, maintaining inventory, promoting, sitting there through busy and slow periods. I’ve been there, for years, and I know it can be frustrating as often as it is gratifying. I think Hugh is pretty spectacular, and worthy of notice, but I really want to ensure that the other spots like Bureau of Urban Living, Spectacles, Leopold’s Books, City Bird, Rachel’s Place and so many other great independent shops get business too. They are the regular cast at this point. I’m just a special guest star.
Mark: I like all of those places, but I just find the concept of pop-up retail so interesting. I also like the idea of transient retail. If I’m not mistaken, you and I have discussed this before – the notion that one could travel the country in a kind of rolling store, promoting one’s travels through a blog… I think that would be incredible. Do you know if anyone’s done it?
Joe: Pop-up retail has the advantage of exploiting immediately interesting concepts, maybe ideas that aren’t sustainable. And I have to say as someone who has done independent retail for over a decade, it’s nice to not worry about the soft times of the year.
That idea we discussed is incredible, and I’ve talked about it to a good degree with a few other entrepreneurial-minded folks. A semi that pulls up and brings some super-cool store into an area? Awesome. The beaureacratic elements of that are daunting, however.
I don’t know anyone who has done it, certainly not to the extent that a fully conceptualized independent store pulls up and shakes things up a little bit. But I think it is worth exploring, and I wouldn’t rule it out in the future.
Mark: Do you think full-time retail is in your future? Or, having now run operations like that in both Detroit and Ann Arbor, have you had enough? Might we see Hugh again next holiday season, or perhaps online? And didn’t you mention to me once that you were interested in designing products of your own?
Joe: I do feel like Hugh, this time around, is kind of a last hurrah for a while. After twelve years, I kind of want a change of pace. But I wouldn’t rule anything out – the time from the offer on the space to the opening of Hugh for the Holidays was about three weeks. I guess once you’ve popped up it becomes easier and easier.
One comment I’ve received a few times is that this time around Hugh seems really tight, conceptually, and the people saying that mean it in a good way. It’s really a store that could only exist for a short period of time because it is so so specific. I guess if Hugh comes back next year it will be the Halloween USA of pop-up stores.
Online is a good idea, but it takes a different kind of approach. One of the things I love about retail is the physical retail experience, and you get absolutely none of that with an online store. Plus a physical store enhances a community and creates more local economic benefit than an online store, and as hippy as it may sound I ultimately believe that is important.
Producing my own designs would be a total gas, but for now it’s just a bit of a dream. And something I yammer about with renowned bloggers at cocktail parties.
Mark: Is there anything else you want to tell people, Joe?
Joe: Sure. If you are thinking of opening a small business you should do it, it’s a great experience, you work a lot but get a lot of flexibility and sometimes you even make a little money. If you aren’t thinking of it, you should make an effort to support the ones around you. And that includes Ann Arbor, even though I know people like to hate on it. It’s a nice place.
And visit wonderful Detroit!
You’ll find Hugh at 2233 Park Avenue, right next to the Centaur Bar, and directly behind the Fox Theater.