A shopping center where everything is temporary

Stackt, a new downtown Toronto retail market, was not built to last. Ironically, and in the face of increasingly online shopping habits and crushing store closures from the pandemic, its temporary nature is precisely why this new kind of shopping space has managed to succeed.

Winner of Fast business Retail Innovation by Design Award 2021, Stackt is built largely from repurposed shipping containers and placed on a pending development site. It’s like a mall for pop-up stores, each occupying modest to microscopic spaces inside converted shipping containers, and surrounded by a pedestrian promenade accessible to the public. Uniquely, Stackt offers a variety of flexible leases for emerging businesses that range from a year or multiple months to a single day.

[Photo: Stackt]

“Typically in real estate you think of five- or 10-year leases and spaces that span thousands of square feet. We are proposing just the opposite, ”says founder Matt Rubinoff.

This flexibility even extends to Stackt itself, which was developed to stay on its site for a limited time. The project occupies an entire block of the city, or approximately 100,000 square feet of land in the downtown area which is slated for the development of a new public park in the future. Although the launch of this project remains an undetermined date in the future, Stackt is leasing the space to the city and filling it with activity.

[Photo: Stackt]

It is a unique new form for retail as the industry grapples with changes brought about by e-commerce as well as the pandemic. While many shopping streets have struggled in recent years, old and new retailers are looking for ways to make physical stores work. Canada Goose, one of the Fast business The most innovative companies of 2021 have attracted customers by transforming retail stores into experiential spaces and museum-like facilities. And in another experiment, automaker Toyota has teamed up with architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson to develop a mobile pop-up store concept for fashion accessories brand Cuyana.

Since opening in April 2019, Stackt has seen more than 1,000 businesses operate inside its metal framework. With modest construction costs due to easily converted and reconfigured shipping containers, Stackt provides affordable retail space for established brands and new businesses making their first business in the retail world. Rental spaces at Stackt include a 900 square foot store made by combining three shipping containers and removing their internal walls and a 140 square foot mini store made by dividing one container in half. “It’s actually a lot of space for a number of these brands that are just looking to test a product or a new concept,” says Rubinoff. “It’s a very low cost investment. »Monthly rental prices start at around $ 1,900.

[Photo: Stackt]

The model has been good for small businesses that have been able to physically establish themselves, even briefly, in a crowded e-commerce marketplace. Stackt has reserved 25 of its storefronts for very short pop-up engagements, providing a point-of-sale system for new businesses to get started quickly. Brands and businesses can use the spaces for a single day up to a few weeks.

[Photo: Stackt]

“We’re capping at 45 days, so we’re making sure there’s always those spaces available for that very short-term nature that these brands are looking for,” Rubinoff said. “From a consumer perspective, when they come to visit, they’re always going to see something different. “

Other small businesses have used Stackt as a space to expand what they do. One is Makeway, a women’s sneaker and streetwear store. “We chose Stackt because of its versatility and unique offering,” says Shelby Weaver, co-founder of Makeway. She was drawn to the variety of local vendors, on-site dining options, and scheduled event spaces, which allows Makeway to host community events and be part of those hosted by others. “Being at Stackt allows us to achieve our goals without having to travel. From programming and events, to activations and parties, we are able to do it all without ever having to leave the store or site.

[Photo: Stackt]

Rubinoff says small businesses have also benefited from their colocation with larger and more established brands like BMO (Bank of Montreal) renting larger spaces in the project, as well as the on-site brewery, restaurants and art facilities. rotating. Stackt’s trendy cachet also benefits some of these big companies, like BMO. “Opening a 600 square foot branch in Stackt pushes the boundaries and forces us to think differently about design and how to cater to different customer communities,” said Roy Stanjevich of BMO. Some pilot programs and design approaches initiated at the Stackt branch have even started to be implemented at other locations in the bank, he says.

While the pandemic may have sounded the death knell for other retail spaces, Stackt saw its visitor numbers drop by just 10% between fall 2019 and fall 2020, with people coming to take advantage of around 75,000 square feet of pedestrian space within the project.

After two years of operation, one of which was almost entirely devoured by the pandemic, Stackt is still going strong, Rubinoff says. The project has seen its lease extended by the city until 2023, and no start date is in sight for the construction project which will one day take over the site.

Rubinoff knows that the planned project will eventually force Stackt to leave, but that doesn’t mean the project will die. “Anything you see in that 100,000 square feet could be picked up and taken with us, whether we found another lot that size or five different lots,” he says. And this version of the concept may just be the start. Rubinoff says he hopes to one day expand the Stackt projects to other cities across Canada. “It was always the idea that it was a pilot project,” he says.

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Peggy P. Gilmore

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