When a change in diet relieved her eczema, schoolteacher Priya Tahiliani had an idea to open a bakery in Brookline dedicated completely to gluten-free foods.
But after Tahiliani, 33, and husband Craig Haas assembled enough gluten-free recipes for a shop they plan to call the Cupcake Battery, they couldn’t find a location for the business in their hometown.
Now a rent-free arrangement for temporary “pop-up” shops at the site of a long-stalled development project in Brookline Village is providing the couple a spot to serve up their sweets.
“This is a perfect situation for us,” said Tahiliani.
The Cupcake Battery is one of several temporary shops opening at the Brookline Pop-Up Marketplace, at 2 Brookline Place. Boston Children’s Hospital has been planning to tear down the building, but the economic downturn stalled its plans for a new office and medical facility, and in the meantime several storefronts have been left vacant for extended periods.
A start-up company called PopUp Republic, founded by Brookline native Jeremy Baras, has been working with the town’s economic development office to find businesses looking for temporary space that could reenergize the hospital’s property.
Baras’s business focuses on social marketing for temporary, or “pop-up” shops, restaurants, and events, and has signed a rent-free agreement for two vacant spaces at 2 Brookline Place for up to a year. The marketplace opened Aug. 3, and some of the first pop-up shops that have signed on are the Museum of Bad Art; Weinstein Sculpture, a gallery set up by artist Al Weinstein to showcase his works in stone and wood; Dim Sum Design; OGO Gallery; and Goddard House Assisted Living, which will sell jewelry, scarves, and other items made by residents of the Chestnut Street facility.
The shops will rotate in and out of the spaces, and PopUp Republic isn’t charging any of the vendors rent or fixed fees. Instead, his company will take a percentage of their sales, said Baras, who is hoping that success at the site will help his business grow.
“We’re trying to prove how much pop-ups can be used to revitalize commercial areas that were affected by the economy,” Baras said.
Charles Weinstein, the vice president of real estate and planning development for Children’s Hospital, said the pop-up businesses seem to be a good fit while the hospital works out its long-range plans for the property.
“We’d rather have an active site than an unactive site,” Weinstein said.
The hospital was granted permits by the town in 2009 to tear down the building at 2 Brookline Place and erect a 252,000-square-foot structure with medical and general office space. But as the project was getting its permits the economy was crashing, and rents were going down, and as a result the project has never gotten off the ground, said Weinstein.
He said Children’s Hospital is reevaluating its plans for the property and will be talking to the town this fall about updating its development permits. He said the hospital’s new plan may include more offices and less medical space.
Weinstein said many of the storefronts at 2 Brookline Place were vacated by tenants who had been anticipating the hospital to move forward with its development plans, including two chain restaurants, Bertucci’s and Skipjack’s .
The town helped connect PopUp Republic and the hospital, as well as PopUp Republic and Tahiliani and Haas, according to Andy Martineau, Brookline’s economic development planner.
Martineau said the idea of pop-up stores has gained traction across the country over the past couple of years as a way to quickly add vitality to areas that could use a shot in the arm, with the temporary arrangements avoiding the challenges of working out long-term leases.
“It’s a cool, innovative idea, and we’re excited about it,” he said.
Opening pop-up shops that sell food is also complicated for permitting reasons, Martineau said, but the model will work for businesses, such as the Cupcake Battery, that prepare food at a different site.
Tahiliani said she and her husband are working to rent a commercial kitchen where they would prepare their goods, and then sell them at the Pop-up Marketplace.
They see opening a pop-up shop as an opportunity to build a base of loyal customers while they look for a permanent home for their business.