LIANE HANSEN, host:
One way businesses are coping with hard times is by selling goods out of so-called pop-up stores. That way, they can avoid the cost of long-term leases and long-term obligations to workers. These outlets appear in malls and other locations for only a few months.
NPR's Jamie Tarabay visited a pop-up Halloween shop.
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JAMIE TARABAY: In the window of the Halloween Express in the northern Virginia mall, a skeleton sits at cards with a mummy. On the table are gold coins and severed fingers. Inside the store, a witch cackles over a crystal ball and mummies creak as they sit up out of their graves.
Mr. EDDIE HILL (Halloween Express): We've been here since, I'd say, the day before Labor Day.
TARABAY: Eddie Hill has worked at Halloween Express the past six years.
Mr. HILL: During the off-season, I struggle to find work, especially this time of day, and with the economy and all right now. So, you know, luckily, this always pops up, and when it does, you know, I'm always invited back.
TARABAY: This pop-up store is filling a space next to the Cheesecake Factory and a Corner Bakery. The previous permanent tenant, a furniture store, filed for national bankruptcy. Hill says it's an arrangement that works for the store's owner and for the mall.
Mr. HILL: We do very good business for them, and it brings in good revenue for the mall.
TARABAY: The mall's management agrees. Ferris Kaplan is the marketing director for Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Virginia. Filling that empty space brings in rent and customers.
Mr. FERRIS KAPLAN (Marketing Director, Fair Oaks Mall): It just helps the traffic in the center. It helps the traffic down those wings of the mall. It just brings more people to the surrounding stores who are there permanently.
TARABAY: The seasonal pop-up store phenomenon is driven by cheap retail space, says Stephen Hoch, marketing professor at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania. Malls offer lower rents to the temporary stores rather than leave storefronts empty.
Professor STEPHEN HOCH (Marketing, Wharton School): I think it's a combination of available real estate and the fact that there are just certain products that sell at certain times of year and people like the convenience in going to one place that specializes in it.
TARABAY: Big name retailers are trying to capitalize on lower rents to increase their presence and improve store sales by renting pop-up stores. Toys R Us Express stores are opening in 600 locations. Best Buy is operating shop fronts in malls to hawk its mobile phone line - all in time for the holidays.
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TARABAY: College student Elizabeth Renna is browsing the costumes at Halloween Express with a friend. She already has ideas about what she might wear more than a month from now.
Ms. ELIZABETH RENNA: I'm thinking about being a lion. There's a really cute lion costume.
TARABAY: Both girls say they prefer to come to an actual store to see the clothes for themselves and try them on, rather than go online. And getting in early, says Renna, is important.
Ms. RENNA: I think it's better to do it now, so, before they, like, sell out and, like, don't get your size, so...
TARABAY: Throughout the store, pinned above Buzz Lightyear costumes and President Obama masks, are signs stating unequivocally that sales are final. Which they have to be - anyone who tries to return a costume to the shop after Halloween will find a store selling toys for Christmas instead.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.
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