Holiday Pop-Up: Temporary shop permanently reactivates historic downtown shopping area

Krystal Mims, who with Daniel Mims owns C&P Mercantile and is a partner in the Cotton and Pine design studio, poses with store manager Christina Torres in front of letterpress prints sold in the downtown Montgomery business.

When the Kress on Dexter Holiday Pop Up Shop opened in downtown Montgomery in November 2015, it was only supposed to be for about six weeks. Two years later, the once-temporary shop has paved the way for a permanent retail collaboration in downtown.

“Over those six weeks, we continued to gain momentum,” said Steven Lambert, who at the time, worked as creative director for Cotton and Pine, a design studio and print shop in Montgomery. “We thought, we have put in the ground work, and it appears everyone is in favor. So, we decided to keep it going and to keep the collaboration alive.”

Retail Rebirth in Downtown
The idea was born through Lambert’s creative work for the developers of the historic Kress building in downtown Montgomery, just a few blocks from the Alabama Capitol. Lambert, working in collaboration with the Kress development team, spearheaded the original pop-up shop to not only stir retail interest in the area, but also to give people a reason to come downtown and see the development and construction process unfolding at the Kress building. Because Kress was under construction at the time, they opened the pop-up shop in an unused space around the corner. Lambert reached out to the vast network of “Southern Makers” he knew in the region, and began gathering one-of-a-kind and predominately Alabama-made merchandise for the shop, in addition to Cotton and Pine’s own letterpress prints. Among the items that made their way to the shelves were local art prints, letterpress coasters and stationery, journals, jewelry, T-shirts, candles, and leather goods.

“We got a lot of interest from the start. For one, it was the peak of the retail sales period with it being the holidays. But, I think more importantly, what we were doing – bringing people downtown and reactivating a historic shopping area – it inspired a lot of buy-in. The Makers themselves were also a big driver for sales, as they helped us promote the shop and our concept.”

A Lasting Impact
After the successful 2015 holiday season wrapped up, Lambert and his team officially reopened the shop full time under the name C&P Mercantile. They also recruited Prevail Union Coffee to share their retail space. The coffee shop, which is a craft coffee roaster and micro importer, helped boost daily foot traffic to the space, while attracting a broader audience to the neighborhood. And the other shared tenant, The Chop Shop Barber Shop, brings in a whole new flow of clientele by the afternoon.

“The three pieces worked really well together,” said Lambert. “And that was strategic. We knew it would bring a good flow of people coming in and out throughout the day.”

Today, customers describe the space as an unexpected gem – Southern charm with a friendly, hipster vibe.

On any given day, you’ll find an eclectic mix of people inside – sitting, talking, enjoying the company of friends, or savoring a quiet cup of coffee alone. Many browse the shelves of C&P Mercantile while waiting for their brew, while others come to shop and find themselves drawn to the unique offerings at the coffee bar.

“What we were doing – bringing people downtown and reactivating a historic shopping area – it inspired a lot of buy-in,” said Steven Lambert, former creative director for Cotton and Pine, which operates C&P Mercantile.

The Future is Bright
On the heels of the shop’s third holiday selling season, some exciting plans are ahead for 2018. While C&P Mercantile will continue to operate in its current location at 1 Court Square, the coffee shop and barber shop will soon be moving around the corner, into the Kress Building, for which the original pop-up shop was named.

The changes open the door for the continued growth of downtown Montgomery’s retail landscape. Since the pop-up’s opening, those involved say the spirit of collaboration still leads the way. Developers on both sides of Dexter Avenue already have or will soon open new restaurants and stores – hoping to make the area more family-friendly.

“We knew that we needed to create neighbors and partners who would nurture the projected retail redevelopment of Kress on Dexter and other surrounding properties, as well as complement our business model,” explained Lambert.

“Through this process, we have seen such a great sense of community and pride with our neighboring businesses. We all have a shared interest for each of us to succeed.”

Story by Melissa Johnson Warnke, Photos by Brandon Robbins

A version of this story was first published in the November 2017 edition of Alabama Retailer magazine.