Durable Growth

A shipping container pop-up in Petaluma?

Peanut butter and strawberry preserves waffle

Peanut butter and strawberry preserves waffle

Pop-up retail businesses in urban settings and shipping containers for urban space are two growing trends.

Both, especially in combination, offer interesting possibilities for the North Bay.

Shipping containers are being increasingly used for retail and residential space.  Atlantic Cities writes about some of the applications.  In appropriate sites and with good site engineering, they can provide a quick and effective response to changing urban conditions.

Pop-up retail spaces, quickly installed stores often with a limited intended life, are frequently used to bridge the gap between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores.  Knowledge@Wharton offers a perspective on the philosophy behind pop-ups.  Atlantic Cities offers thoughts on the related concept of temporary cities.

Pop-ups can also be used to meet short-term social or neighborhood revitalization needs.  Several restaurateurs in Oklahoma City are setting up pop-up restaurants to feed the victims of the recent tornadoes and to raise relief funds.   And a string of pop-ups was recently used to kick-start a moribund commercial district in Oakland.

The container and pop-up trends are separate and distinct.  But they can overlap in marvelous ways.  After devastating earthquakes struck Christchurch, New Zealand, Re:Start, a pop-up retail mall that made extensive use of containers was among the first businesses to begin serving the stricken town, restoring a sense of normalcy.  After a year, Re-Start remains in operation.



I found all of this interesting, but it didn’t seem pertinent to the North Bay until I chanced upon a pop-up business in a shipping container and had my eyes opened.

It was in Carlsbad, a coastal community in northern San Diego County.  Carlsbad is largely comprised of vast ridgelines of stucco palaces, about which I’ll write another time.  But in the center of the car-centric sprawl is a downtown shopping district that somehow survives from another age.  And on a key downtown intersection is a pop-up waffle shop, Boxd, in a shipping container.

I stumbled across Boxd during recent travels.   My interest piqued, my traveling companion and I stopped for a mid-afternoon snack, a fresh waffle laden with peanut butter and strawberry preserves.  In exchange for the small purchase, I posed questions to the counter person.

The lot was owned for years by an elderly gentleman who didn’t have an intended use for it.  But he had a grudge against the city, so chose not to sell the lot to the city.  After his passing, the city was finally able to acquire the lot, but funds were too tight to create a new city park.

Eating area

Eating area

Instead, Boxd filled the void.  In exchange for a land lease, the waffle shop installed a container for a small restaurant, another container to serve as a downtown restroom, and enough tables and artificial turf to create an eating area.  With a few details such as old-style lamp posts, the site made an appealing addition to downtown.

According to the counter person, there was no significant obstruction from the brick-and-mortar stores in downtown.  Nor was the City building department a major hurdle, despite the unusual structure.  However, when I first spotted the business on the evening before my snack, an employee was on the roof installing a vent despite the business having been open almost a year.  So there seemed to be a least a few issues with shipping container approach.

The counter person didn’t know the terms of their lease with the city.  However, I can see a use like Boxd being a land-banking operation.  It would allow a short-term productive and aesthetic use of a piece of property until economics can justify brick-and-mortar.



So, can Boxd provide a model for the North Bay?  My thoughts went immediately to the Petaluma Station Area.

As the Station Area plan is implemented, two potentially contradictory goals must be met. First, multiple buildings must be constructed, requiring sequential staging throughout the Station Area.  Second, the rail passengers must be made to feel comfortable so their daily patterns become engrained.

It seems that a containerized pop-up coffee stand could help achieve the latter goal without getting in the way of the former.  The business could be a container or two that are moved to new locations in the Station Area as construction progresses and as the access routes of the train passengers evolve.

Perhaps the initial site for the containers would be close to the SMART station.  But as the initial buildings near construction, which would hopefully happen soon, the containers could be moved closer to D Street, a route by which many passengers will approach the station.  Later, as the length of Transverse Street nearest to the station is completed, perhaps another location for the containers can be found adjoining that alignment.

At this time, it’s a premature idea, but I think there’s worth in it.

Back to Boxd.  You may be wondering about my thoughts on the waffle.  It was fine, but I was surprised at how runny peanut butter becomes when enclosed in a fresh-from-the-griddle waffle.  The flavors were excellent, but the messiness factor was high.  If I again find myself in Carlsbad, I’d probably be more tempted by the pulled pork and slaw waffle.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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