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Breaking Down NYC’s Sudden Tour Merch Pop-Up Boom

"Kanye West revived pop-up shops" is a sentence I didn't expect to say in 2016.


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Temporary retail was hot-hot-hot in the early 2010s and peaked in 2014. Hermès had two "Silk Bars", Fendi did vending machines in Soho, A.P.C. summered at the Wythe Hotel. Glory days.

But much like designer collaborations, pop-up shops became so common (especially here in New York City) that shopper enthusiasm slowed to a drip and brands significantly scaled back, or at least used different terminology (Everlane: Shoe ParkMatchesfashion: Townhouse; and more than one "vacation shop").

Then The Life of Pablo pop-up shop came to Soho for three frenzied days in late March, selling nothing but merch supporting Kanye's most recent album. Prior to the short-term Wooster Street store, TLOP tees, hoodies, and more had only been available at the album's debut, a Madison Square Garden listening party whose tickets were damn expensive (I paid $600-something for two tickets, but I did sit one section away from the Kardashian block that included Lamar Odom and Anna Wintour, FWIW).

A little under a month later, Drake opened a one-day storefront in advance of his album Views (he didn't totally copying ‘Ye: Aubrey held simultaneous pop-ups in three cities for Nothing Was the Same promotion in 2013). Two weeks later, Justin Bieber's Purpose Tour merch took over VFiles. Next, The Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour had a short-term store on the Bowery. And most recently, The Strokes opened a week-long record shop that served coffee and closed on Sunday, June 5th.

If "three's a trend," then five is a certified phenomenon.

Kanye claimed that in the cumulative 20 hours that the TLOP shop was open, it generated a million dollars in sales. While that's some unverified Kanye babble, here are some real numbers showing how the pop-ups stacked up.


The Timeline


Drake's Views shop was the quickest, open for a single afternoon. The Strokes went in for a full week, which makes sense because a) it was spatially the largest and b) they went through the trouble of setting up a coffee shop!!


Why They Popped Up Here When They Did

Everyone had a slightly different reasoning for the timing of their pop-up, though it was generally related to an album drop or an NYC tour stop (or both, in the case of The Strokes). Yeezus, of course, had to be the exception to the rule.

Kanye West: The record release show was in February (because NYFW), and official tour dates still haven't been announced as of press time.

Drake: His pop-up was tied to the Views release date just over a week later on April 29th. Drizzy and Future will play Madison Square Garden on August 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th, and return October 11th and 12th to play The Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Justin Bieber: The Biebs played Barclays on May 4th and 5th (the same days as his pop-up) and will be back July 18th and 19th to play MSG (so will we see another one??)

Bad Boy Entertainment: The ten-act Family Reunion Tour lineup — anchored by Diddy and including Lil' Kim, Mase, Faith Evans, and French Montana — was joined by Jay Z and Mary J Blige to celebrate Biggie's 44th birthday at Barclays on Friday, May 20th, so the shop opened the day prior and ran through the weekend. The regularly-scheduled tour (which doesn't include Jay or Mary) includes one NYC date: September 4th at MSG.

The Strokes: The NYC-native band isn't on tour, but they dropped their latest EP, Future Present Past, on June 2nd and followed it up with by headlining Gov Ball the next day.


While Views was purely a hype machine that technically lost money when factoring in space's rental cost, Kanye (says he) made some serious cash with TLOP. Of course, that can fluctuate depending on what you're charging your fans.


What's Next?

The tone has been set and the blueprint is clear: three or so days, announce it only a day or two in advance, have some affordable merch around 30 bucks, and a limited number of a superstar item priced at no more than $400.

Has the reinvigorated pop-up bubble already burst, or will we see more bands and artists shilling merch outside of their shows? Beyoncé's Formation tour rolls through this week; hopefully she grants us with a lemonade stand and an opportunity to buy "Boy Bye" iPhone cases IRL.