The experience starts the moment someone spots the truck.
“It’s kind of in your face, and that’s what I like about it. It’s hard to ignore a giant glowing truck,” Nikki Welch said.
This giant glowing truck is Planet Rabbit and Broken Arrow Boutique: a mobile art gallery turned vintage boutique in downtown Tucson.
All around the country pop-up retail is popping up as business owners get creative with temporary retail stores. This pop-up phenomenon has taken on a new form: stores on wheels.
“It’s a new business model. Anything retail, people are putting on wheels,” said Stacey Steffe, president of the American Mobile Retail Association.
Business owners are turning RVs, box trucks, and your average van into retail shops. Steffe said this model is attractive to retailers because it has lower starter up costs, less risk, and offers a variety of locations versus a stationary retail store.
Seattle has Georgetown Trailer Park Mall, Austin has mobile shoe boutiques, and now mobile galleries and mobile vintage stores are rolling into Tucson. Pioneering this movement are the minds behind Planet Rabbit and Broken Arrow Boutique: David Aguirre, Nikki Welch, and Calley Davenport.
Aguirre, director of Dinnerware Artspace, has been working for over 20 years in the downtown Tucson art scene. Much of Aguirre’s work includes finding spaces for local artists to showcase their work. While visiting Santa Fe, Aguirre was inspired by a mobile shop to create Planet Rabbit: Tucson’s first mobile art galley. Planet Rabbit has been travelling around Tucson displaying and selling local artwork. However, Aguirre did not want to limit the potential of the truck by making it purely Planet Rabbit, the art gallery.
“Not only is it mobile physically but in theme it’s mobile as well,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre began to collaborate with Welch and Davenport to make their mobile boutique work. Running out of the same truck, Broken Arrow Boutique sells local artwork, vintage clothing, and handmade jewelry.
“Everything in the shop is local or sourced locally so it has a touch of Tucson in everything,” Davenport said.
From a vintage prom dress to handcrafted jewelry to artwork under $30, the ladies behind Broken Arrow Boutique feel that it is important to keep the business local and affordable.
“We are making a difference in our neighbors’ lives,” Welch said.
Broken Arrow Boutique and Planet Rabbit may reside in Tucson, but the wheels allow a number of different locales rather than the same storefront territory.
“Wherever we decide to set up provides a whole different environment and that adds a whole new flavor to wherever we park it,” Aguirre said.
The vehicle may be parked on Fourth Avenue one evening or Congress Street another, but wherever the truck is parked it is sure to generate curiosity.
“Every single time we park somewhere people are so excited and curious to see what we are doing,” Welch said.
Curiosity is expected, but they all agree that the element of the unknown is a huge factor in their collaboration. Davenport said that there can be a myriad of issues, from finding parking, to the dangers of low hanging power lines, or simply running out of change.
“We’ve gone to several locations where we are expecting something and we’re learning you never know what to expect,” Davenport said.
Perhaps that is the beauty behind the project, Aguirre suggested.
“This is innovation: willingness to put a collection of experiences together, put them in a van, and not know what’s going to happen,” Aguirre said.
The collaboration requires a creative business approach. Welch said they are offering an alternative and creative experience and are not trying to compete with traditional shop businesses. While they most frequently park downtown and on 4th Avenue, Welch mentioned that they make a point to not park the truck in front of other retail shops.
“We don’t want to create that hostility and take over someone’s demographic,” Welch said.
Instead they have been parking outside of businesses like Cartel Coffee Lab, where they had their opening during the Food Truck Roundup on March 6. Davenport said they usually park outside and then introduce themselves to make their presence known. She said they have yet to have a negative experience with shop owners.
The three agree that what it comes down to is a collaboration between businesses.
“Everyone’s looking for more business, more energy, and more customers,” Aguirre said.
Paula Valencia, owner of Sacred Machine art gallery downtown, said she does not worry about pop-up competition. “The more happening downtown the better it is for everyone. We have always welcomed anything new and cultural,” said Valencia.
The goal is to collaborate with local businesses to create a new environment and a sense of community on the streets.
“We want to be a part of the Tucson art community and show people our age that this is possible and if you have an idea you can do it,” Davenport said.
Davenport and Welch said the ultimate goal is for Tucson to have a fleet of mobile shops collaborating and innovating.
“We love the idea of people copying us and I’ll be excited when Congress is full of trucks for shopping,” Welch said.
Planet Rabbit and Broken Arrow have already inspired others in the community to follow the lead. Both the local appearance of Planet Rabbit and Broken Arrow Boutique and Georgetown Trailer Park Mall in Seattle inspired a Tucson resident, Shannon Sartin, to purchase her own vintage trailer with the vision of opening a mobile boutique.
“I love vintage everything,” said Sartin, “and it’s kind of a kitschy cool thing to do and it’s a business that has low overhead.”
Sartin’s trailer boutique, Leatherlips, will offer vintage clothing and custom-made jewelry. Her mission is to bring unique and affordable vintage finds to the people of Tucson.
“Tucson has epic access to vintage clothing but in the last few years the market has been flooded with overpriced garbage,” Sartin
With affordability, quality, and access in mind, Sartin hopes to have Leatherlips rolling out by the end of this month with an online site available as well.
Like Davenport and Welch, Sartin dreams of a Tucson bustling with mobile stores. She plans to team up with Broken Arrow Boutique and other like-minded individuals creating their own mobile vision.
“I think there is success in numbers and if we are together we are going to attract more people,” Sartin said.
These mobile entities are ultimately trying to incubate creative movements and energy in Tucson.
“Tucson is at a crazy crossroads right now where creative energies and processes are getting a little popular moment,” Sartin said.