SKOWHEGAN — It’s called a pop-up store, a marketing concept in which a retailer can try out a product or a service for a day, a week or a month.

Now there’s a pop-up at the Pickup in Skowhegan.

The 150-square-foot storefront is part of the changes at the Somerset Grist Mill, where the community-supported agriculture program has expanded and the Pickup Cafe will begin serving dinner this weekend.

“There is this trend sweeping the nation trying out pop-up stores, which basically means it’s temporary,” grist mill co-owner Amber Lambke said. “It’s a space where people can try out their business idea for a day, a weekend, a week, a month. Communities all across the country are trying this.”

Pop-up stores began in the 1990s in large cities such as Tokyo, London, Los Angeles and New York and soon spread to smaller communities.

In November, a downtown revitalization program in Gardiner offered three vacant storefronts, rent-free, for the holiday season. They called it Project Pop-Up.

The experiment paid off.

One of the businesses that took advantage of the pop-up concept, Pooches Second Hand Shop, ended up staying and renting the store full time, said Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street. One of the other spaces was rented by a salon, partly because of the vacant storefront’s exposure, Wright said.

“I think it was definitely a success,” he said. “The exposure that we got certainly got folks to think about not only shopping downtown for the holiday season, but just getting Gardiner recognition.”

In Biddeford, Delilah Poupore, executive director of Heart of Biddeford, another Main Street Maine program, said the group held a Youth Pop Up Challenge in 2011.

Storefronts offered for one month to high school and college students who took a vacant space and brought life to it, Poupore said.

“While they did that, not only did they draw a whole bunch of people downtown, they also showed the potential of the space,” she said.

Two other pop-ups were established in Biddeford to do test marketing for retail clothing stores. Both spaces ultimately were filled.

Lambke said ideas for a pop-up in Skowhegan could include a crafter, a furniture maker or a small kitchen supply store to test the market without having to rent a storefront for a year.

Lambke said with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, the pop-up could be a holiday store offering specialty goods from the area.

“It’s fun. It’s revolving. It’s meant to keep a lot of things going,” Lambke said.

Rental costs for the Skowhegan pop-up will be $50 a day, $100 a week and $350 a month, Lambke said. She said other pop-up spaces could open up in the various rooms and cellblocks inside the old jail once a new heating and cooling system is installed.

The storefront is in a former jail guard’s office at the county jail, which Lambke and partner Michael Scholz, of Albion, bought in 2009. The former jail is now a grist mill producing whole-grain flour and rolled oats. There is a yarn shop and a technology office offering computer advice.

The pop-up store is attached to the Pickup CSA and the Pickup Cafe.

A CSA program, short for community-supported agriculture, involves customers prepaying for a share of seasonal locally produced food, which is picked up or delivered once a week.

The grist mill and Pickup now have 20 mostly part-time employees in the combined operations, including three owner-employees, plus the farm workers who supply the food for the CSA and the Skowhegan Farmers Market. Several grants have been awarded to the grist mill since 2009, including a $40,000 start-up grant from the Somerset Economic Development Corp.

The Pickup LLC is a 10-person collaborative of shareholders that include farmers, a chef, a lawyer and the managers of the cafe and the CSA program. It opened in Sept. 2011.

What began with about 20 farms providing fresh food for 17 summer shareholders now is a program that this summer has 57 shareholders. In 2012, the CSA program sold 276 individual shares of food from 40 farms and suppliers.

Last year the Pickup CSA bought $100,000 worth of produce, cheese and meat. All of the money went back into salaries and program and investment costs, with no profits — yet — for anyone, Lambke said.

This year the Pickup bought a refrigerator truck for expanded wholesale distribution of fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs and bread for locations from Augusta to Sugarloaf and Jackman, according to CSA program manager Sarah Smith, of Grassland Farms in Skowhegan. Deliveries include institutional orders to MaineGeneral Medical Center, Good Will-Hinckley and Redington-Fairview General Hospital.

The truck also visits families and smaller businesses with CSA shares during its two-day route.

The Pickup Cafe, which opened with a limited menu on Saturdays in May 2012, now serves breakfast and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and, beginning today, also will serve lunch and dinner on Fridays as well as dinner on Saturday nights, according to cafe managers Rosa and Adam Rosario.

The cafe, which seats 30 people inside and 15 more on a veranda during nice weather, has been renovated with new bathrooms, storage space and a new grill. The cafe also has a beer and wine license and features Maine beers.

“The menu is going to change monthly, depending on what’s in season and what’s available,” Rosa Rosario said. “Ninety percent of our food is locally produced; we depend on farm availability.”

There will be vegan and vegetarian entrees, along with grilled and roasted meat. Tonight’s menu will feature an Italian seafood stew from Maine wholesalers. Desserts are from The Bankery in Skowhegan.

“We’re dreaming big,” Adam Rosario said. “We want to keep ourselves working for the next 10 or 15 years; that’s what I’m hoping for.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
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