Pop stars
Picture: Robert Duncan

One minute it's an empty building or unused public space, the next it's a colourful shop or a hip new place to eat, drink and be merry, and attracting lots of customers.

And then, it's gone.

Welcome to the here today, gone tomorrow world of pop-ups - cafes and bars, shops and stalls that spring up overnight and last for as long (or as short) as their creators want.

They're credited with bringing new life to unused spaces. Sometimes they help cash-strapped entrepreneurs kickstart a business without being handcuffed to leases that stretch for years.

The concept has been embraced with enthusiasm by some local councils in Perth. They see it as a way to rejuvenate and invigorate unused areas while the public gets the chance to sample new venues and products. But is there a downside to pop-ups?

Are pop-ups threatening to cannibalise businesses whose owners have invested many dollars as well as blood, sweat and tears over the years?

Adrian Gastevski, co-proprietor of the Grand Hotel in Perth CBD and several taverns in the northern suburbs, agrees pop-ups are great for customers, especially during special events such as arts festivals.

"Even I've enjoyed going out to the city and trying something new - the variation and choice is awesome," he said.

"I think it's a great idea for areas where there is nothing or as a testing ground to establish a new business where people are trying to work out if something could work in a new position."

But Mr Gastevski sounded a note of caution on allowing pop-ups into established precincts where there was already choice. Authorities should consider if pop-ups added value in such areas or whether they were hurting long-term businesses, he said.

"What message are you sending to your constituent investors in those areas when they're pouring in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars into their investments and then pop-up bars are given extremely flexible terms and easy paths to licensing - with a very low cost and extremely high return - and perhaps coming at the expense of people who are perhaps more permanent in those areas," he asked.

Tom Griffiths is the economic development and marketing manager at Fremantle City Council. He said when considering an application for a pop-up it was important councils considered existing businesses.

"They immediately see it as competition and taking customers away from them, which is an understandable reaction," he said.

"My experience is generally once the pop-up or the markets become established, it generally attracts more people to the area and increases the appeal of that whole precinct. It's a case of not somebody taking a bite out of that pie; it's a case of increasing the size of the pie, so ultimately they get more out of it."

A mobile coffee business called Higher Grounds is one of those that has benefitted from Fremantle's support for pop-ups. Three university friends - Ben Garnaut, Freddy Parsons and Matt Crock - decided to design a portable coffee shop based on the rickshaws they'd seen during their travels. They established Higher Grounds which took six months and cost more than $10,000 (generators and coffee machines don't come cheap).

Their mobile coffee cart can be found at Curtin University during the term's weekdays, at one-off events and during the summer months at a popular beach next to Fremantle Sailing Club.

The trio are adamant they don't take away from the established businesses. With some 30,000 students at Curtin, they reason, there's plenty of room for competition. "There's a huge opening for making use of unused space - it's growing around the world," Mr Parsons said.

Mr Garnaut added: "Our dream is for a restaurant to embody what we believe in - sustainability."

Don Tapa is a South American- influenced restaurant which popped up last November on an unused patch of land next to Fremantle's E Shed Markets. It's been and gone but look out for it at the new Mantle development as it gets off the ground in a warehouse in James Street, Fremantle. Don Tapa is the work of three ex-Melbournites who decided Perth needed a level of food quality to match prices, and the trio recycled a shipping container as the kitchen/bar.

Enrique's School For To Bullfighting is a pop-up success story. After opening to fill space while its neighbouring business, Beaufort Street Merchant, was planning for expansion, the quirky Spanish- influenced bar-cum-restaurant has been so popular that owner Scott Taylor will keep it on site until at least January,

next year.

Word is it will then resurface as Enrique's Mustachio Academy but not necessarily at the same spot. That's the beauty of pop-ups.

"Enrique, as a brand, will live on but in different formats," Mr Taylor said. "The style will be the same but the product may change, depending on what's happening at the time. It just keeps interest alive."

The West Australian

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