A Startup Store: The Spatial Manifestation of E-Commerce

Kelly Chan Kelly Chan

The Chelsea building that is home to A Startup Store, via A Startup Store.

As more and more Internet-based companies take shape, their activities will unquestionably spill into our built environment. As the Observer reported this morning, the growth of tech-driven firms had an observable impact on New York’s real estate market last year: the dot-com penchant for offices in “loftlike spaces with large windows and big floor plates” accounted for 28% of Manahattan leasing in 2011, effectively lowering vacancy rates in downtown Manhattan even in the midst of raging unemployment in Manhattan’s largest tenant group, the financial industry.

Cities today are at the cusp of this process of digital materialization, as innovators in disparate fields are now consciously building bridges between the virtual and the real. A Startup Store is one such bridge: half gallery, half commercial space, one corner store in Chelsea, New York will stock itself with products from online start-ups for four to six weeks at a time, only to shutter and refresh its content much like a website. What’s more, the store will completely reinvent its form along with its content, working with Architizer to enlist architects to redesign its interior space.

Image via Fast Company.

A Startup Store is currently ‘in beta,’ a cheeky yet accurate way of describing their soft launch, for which they have displayed a rotating selection of products from startups such as Artspace, Birchbox and Quirky. Their first exhibit, dubbed ‘The Love Store,’ launches on February 1st and is appropriately themed for Valentine’s Day. As founder Rachel Shechtman explained, while department and specialty stores may outfit their walls and shelves with holiday trappings and seasonal paraphernalia, A Startup Store distinguishes itself by sourcing products from a much more diverse group of merchandisers, a group largely untapped outside of the computer screen. Its walls, subject to constant reinvention, will be the site of what she calls “transactional storytelling,” communicating new messages and offering new sources of inspiration every month.

Designers from Quirky taking ideas from the public and doing live sketching at A Startup Store.

A Startup Store also generously offers its real estate as a site of architectural experimentation. The venture is partnering up with Architizer, aptly using an online community of architects to source designs for the interior. Though A Startup Store actively champions the success of Internet-based companies, its driving motive in fact works to counterbalance the distancing effect of fast-paced digital innovation. As Shechtman told Fast Company, “Tactile human experiences are incredibly important. There’s plenty of content and community online…but there aren’t a whole lot of physical environments that bring together content, community, and commerce.” A Startup Store is thus a physical iteration of what we love about the Internet; it is a place where we go to discover something new.

If you live in New York, check out A Startup Store on 144 Tenth Avenue (at 19th Street). From January 19-22, the space will be hosting a public event for Coffee Common, gathering the world’s best baristas under one roof to serve up delicious coffee and teach people how they can do it too. For more information, click here.