Pop-up shops planned for the Iowa City Ped Mall this holiday season

Rendering of the pop-up shops planned for the Ped Mall. — image courtesy of the Iowa City Downtown District

Pop-up shops are coming to the Ped Mall for the holidays. The Iowa City Downtown District (ICDD) is hosting its third annual Downtown Holiday Market, and this year it will feature a variety of shops in three temporary structures that will be built in Black Hawk Mini Park.

“We’re always trying to find unique experiences that we can offer to people,” said Betsy Potter, ICDD’s director of operations.

For the last two years, the Downtown Holiday Market has been a one-day event held in a tent. This year’s pop-up shops will be open for five weeks, starting the week of Thanksgiving.

Potter said that although the previous Downtown Holiday Markets had been very successful, using a tent in Iowa City in December presented one very big challenge: the weather.

“One year it was in the 40’s, the next year the temperature was below zero,” Potter said. “It was a little unpredictable, and it wasn’t the best shopping environment. But it was really fun, and we realized that if we wanted to continue a market-type feeling in downtown, and wanted to focus on throwing a special retail event outside, we had to change our model.”

“Building temporary pop-up shops is a fast-growing trend around the country. People use anything from shipping containers to geometric domes, as different ways to create pop-up shops. We thought we should put an Iowa City twist on this, if we were going to do it.”

ICDD solicited proposals from local architects, and the winning submission came from Sanjay Jani of Akar Architecture.

The three pop-up shops will be rented by downtown retailers for a minimum period of three days. A different collection of retailers will be in the shops each week, according to Potter.

There will also be special events in the pop-ups.

Rendering of the pop-up shops planned for the Ped Mall. — image courtesy of the Iowa City Downtown District

“When [the shops] are not filled with our retailers, we’ll do some programing,” Potter said. “Monday through Wednesday, we’re going to fill one of the pop-up shops with hundreds of teddy bears, and create a teddy bear room. Families and kids can come and hug teddy bears, and have their photos taken in the teddy bear room. At the end of the season the teddy bears will be donated to local service groups.”

“We want to create an event around the retail shopping during the holiday season, to get people talking about all the amazing retailers we have downtown.”


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There does remain one hurdle before the shops can be set up in two weeks. Currently Iowa City regulations don’t allow for the construction of temporary commercial structures like the planned pop-up shops on the Ped Mall. A proposal to permit such structure to be located on the Ped Mall for a 45 day period was introduced at Monday night’s city council meeting. The first reading of the proposal was approved by a vote of 6-0. It will require one more vote before it becomes law, and that vote won’t occur until the next council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 21—the same week the pop-up shops are supposed to open.

Potter said she’s certain the proposal will pass, and that the first merchants are already lined up for the pop-ups.

ICDD is still accepting applications from retail shops who want participate in the Downtown Holiday Market. Anyone interested should contact the Iowa City Downtown District at 319-354-0863.

Rendering of the pop-up shops planned for the Ped Mall. — image courtesy of the Iowa City Downtown District

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