Uncharted Territory: COVID-19’s Impacts on the Pop Up Industry and Its Future

Like many other businesses, our Parasol Projects team initially thought the COVID-19 pandemic and its related health restrictions would pass quickly. At the beginning of New York City’s pandemic shutdown, we were exiting our slow late winter period and gearing up for a packed spring and summer. The usual flow of city life, however, became disrupted with stay-at-home orders going into effect and this disruption would continue throughout the rest of 2020 into the middle of this year. 

Many Parasol Projects clients who reserved pop-up retail spaces months prior suddenly couldn’t host their events and were unsure about pushing back their booking dates. As a service provider supporting these businesses and artists, both large and small, we witnessed our industry contracting quickly and could empathize with our clients’ uncertainty as we were subject to it as well. We were all stuck in a state of constant flux with regards to what COVID-19 would do to the pop-up industry, as well as the city at large. Would people ever want to go back to in-person events, especially if masks were required? Could retailers ensure they’d have items ready to sell given global supply chain breakdowns? Questions like these kept us awake many nights during the height of the pandemic.

With social and business life in the New York City metro region beginning to restart, our Founder Brandon Coburn offers his perspective on this next chapter for the pop-up industry.

What have been some of the biggest challenges and opportunities related to the ongoing global pandemic with regards to brands hosting in-person events in NYC?

Brandon: The biggest changes involve staying safe and focused on everyone’s health and on helping prevent exposure to a contagious virus. Yes, we’ve always prioritized the safety of our clients’ merchandise and of our pop-up visitors, but now a new dimension has been added. Our focus now includes integrating new health protocols, such as encouraging indoor mask-wearing, sanitizing hands, and using social distancing.

Covid measures in an Art Pop Up in New York


What things have changed since COVID-19 began and how have Parasol Projects helped clients navigate these challenges?

Brandon: Outdoor dining on the street has increased making it harder to park and drive around the city, and has also involved a lot of dirt collecting around these dining facilities because the street sweepers can’t do their jobs completely. To maximize cleanliness, Parasol Projects makes sure its rental spaces are thoroughly cleaned between every booking. We also offer a cleaning service for clients during their stay for an additional cost.

Likewise, and more generally, international travel limitations have negatively impacted the city’s pop-up scene. Fewer tourists visiting New York and its surrounding communities means that fewer people may visit our clients’ shops and in turn, detract from their sales. I’m hopeful that more people getting vaccinated will result in a return to pre-pandemic levels of people coming to the city.

What is the current status of in-person events in the city and how are clients feeling about restarting events?

Brandon: I’m still taking every precaution to stay safe, whereas many clients want to believe everything is back to normal, which it isn’t yet. This kind of mindset leaves the door open for another variant to spread. People are trying to save their businesses and are willing to risk public safety. We think you can do both.

Can you share your professional perspective on the future of pop ups in NYC and how they may evolve in light of the pandemic?

Brandon: The future of pop-ups relies on what happens globally in regards to the pandemic and vaccination efforts. Until a critical mass of people gets vaccinated, it’s hard to provide an accurate guess as to what will happen in the future.

Lastly, what are some personal or business lessons you’ve learned from the past year and a half?

Brandon: I’ve learned and still carry with me daily a few lessons about prevention including:

  • Wash my hands whenever I enter a space 
  • Avoid shaking people’s hands 
  • Wear a mask at all times
  • Keep a social distance when in crowds 
  • Sanitize surfaces before using them