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June 26, 2016
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Thinking Outside the Box: Shipping Container Shops

Meet the next big thing in retail, shipping container shops. Though these petite-sized spaces are smaller than a typical storefront, they just might pack an even bigger punch.

BY: Sara Smola

 

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In the age of reuse and recycle, shipping containers have been repurposed into many things. While the shipping container residential architectural trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down, the latest craze—shipping container shops—is hitting the Los Angeles Arts District with similar developments planned for Long Beach’s hip and trendy Bixby Knolls neighborhood. The Arts District shipping container development is home to four shipping container shops—all currently owned by female entrepreneurs.

Nicolle Ortega, owner of Latin Posh, discovered the area after buying coffee at Shreebs, “I saw the space, the potential, I thought it was a small space but with creativity we could do a lot,” says Ortega. Erin Duke, owner of Brooklyn Born Vintage who shares a container with Ortega, chimes in, “It’s artsy and fun. I love what we did with it—it’s really clean and streamlined. To start, it’s a blank canvas but it’s a box, it looks like it’s meant to ship things.”

 

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Ortega and Duke partnered on opening their hybrid boutique in a shipping container after their combined experiences with pop-ups and retail. Since the space is shared, each woman shoulders responsibility for the shop but Ortega points out that just because the space is smaller, doesn’t mean it’s easy. “It’s less of a risk, but it is still a risk and it’s still a huge money commitment. You can’t just jump off a boat and say, ‘Hey, I decided I’m going to open up a shop and I’m going to sell clothes.’ I’ve been doing this for a year and half and for the first five months, I had no idea what I was doing.” Looking at Brooklyn Born Vintage and Latin Posh’s shared space, painted white for a fresh, modern feel, carefully curated with fashionable clothing and accessories, it looks like Ortega figured it out. Their customer base is strong and Ortega and Duke greet many by name, a boon of owning a cozy boutique. “People come back multiple times a week and I feel like that is harder to achieve with a [bigger] store and I blame this area and Shreebs Coffee,” laughs Duke.

Indeed, Shreebs Coffee has been serving up some of the best lattes in downtown Los Angeles since August and has amassed a cult following for their horchata cold brew latte. “I think when it was first proposed to us, it was so unconventional and our shop has lived inside very unconventional spaces from a laundromat to a furniture store as well as a wood shop. We weren’t going after opening a shop but when this particular space came to us it was like ‘Oh that’s interesting!’ It’s in the Arts District and then we had the idea that we could recreate the backyard that Shreebs started in and make it everyone’s front yard in downtown L.A. Also, it’s a month to month lease and that was really appealing to us, so we don’t have to commit to this space forever because we’re still very much a pop-up,” explains Ren Fuller-Wasserman, co-owner of Shreebs Coffee.

The open courtyard attracts residents of the Arts District, as well as serves as an enjoyable place to hangout while sipping your latte or read a book. Fuller-Wasserman encourages people to stop by and discover the space’s allure for themselves. “There’s a lot more freedom. There’s a lot more fluidity between our customers and the local community. It’s totally open so we wave at cars passing by and people walking their dogs. There’s a lot of room for genuine connection—regardless if people are buying coffee or not.”

Though the drawback of such a small size is the space (or rather, lack of), it sounds like the owners have adapted and, judging by the heavy foot traffic, are thriving. Fuller-Wasserman notes, “It’s like living in a tiny shop. It’s nice because everything is very succinct and tidy but to that same end, if it doesn’t have a purpose, it doesn’t live here. We have to be very conscientious about our use of storage, how much we order.” While Duke believes that the small size allows for more flexibility and is more beneficial to her lifestyle as well as the type of business. “It’s a great fit because we’re both so busy. We can run it efficiently ourselves without having to hire too many people. It’s very contained, small and easy.” Duke acknowledges, “It’s retail, if it was a restaurant it would be a lot harder.”

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