Pop-up memories that last a lifetime

Connected by Consumption: Pop Up Grocer's Emily Schildt

Building retail experiences that stick with consumers in our age of ephemeral media and Instagram Stories.

Lately, I've been thinking about what it means to make something long-lasting in the digital age.

With vanishing photos and viral stories, we have collectively rewritten the rules when it comes to the consequences of creating without consideration for the big picture. And without careful moderation, online consumption can end up stifling offline innovation. But for Pop Up Grocer's Emily Schildt, consumption continues to take on a more dynamic meaning outside of the predicated confines of the digital landscape.

Throughout her career in the food and lifestyle industries, Emily has mastered the art of building brands that take a bite into culturally-relevant conversations. She has also created environments for modern customers to consume (and discover) new things without technological distraction. Perhaps what is most impressive is that while the nature of Emily's work is fleeting, her projects are a creative reminder that if we can embrace the little moments—no matter how quickly they may pass—we can remain connected to them for a lifetime.

In many ways, this sentiment has always been ingrained in Emily's creative perspective. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Emily began cultivating her curiosity at a young age. "I've always been independent, that was the dynamic in my family growing up," Emily tells me when I ask her about her initial relationship with things like making and creativity. "I guess I've sort of always been a maker. Like when I was a kid, I would come up with ways to entertain myself—games, playing house, whatever. That translated into adulthood in the form of things that I could potentially someday make money from but also still be entertained by."

Eventually, Emily's interests culminated in marketing-focused roles at renowned companies in New York City, including Chobani and Fohr Card. She later went on to spearhead thoughtful entrepreneurial ventures like Bitten, as well as Sourdough, her communications consultancy which also produced a successful holiday pop-up shop.

However, it was when I first met Emily as she co-founded Thing of Wonder, a no-phone dinner series focused on reinvigorating creativity and connection through theme-specific talks and activities, that I recognized her innate talent for making one-time occurrences mean something beyond that particular moment—along with the vehicle that has been a connecting thread throughout her endeavors: food.

Photo: Daniela Spector

Emily's initial passion for food didn't blossom until studying in Italy during college; nevertheless, that insatiable curiosity found its way back as she returned overseas just a few years later. "I've been ruminating on grocery for a few years now, and I think one of the 'aha' moments was when I was on a trip with my mom abroad," Emily explains while sharing the early origins of Pop Up Grocer. "We were going over the itinerary, and one of the first items was 'go to the grocery store.' She just looked at me with utter confusion. We were staying in a hotel, had a long list of restaurants we wanted to go to, and she was very uncertain as to why we would go to a store when we had no plans to cook. Then I launched into an explanation as to how I view grocery stores and how I utilize them more for exploration and discovery than for shopping. I said something like, 'You know, you don't go to a museum to buy art, you go there to appreciate it.' That clicked with her."

From there, Emily began mapping out a concept that would evolve from a permanent grocery store into what we know Pop Up Grocer to be today. Simply put, the shop aims to showcase a highly-curated selection of goods from some of the most promising natural food brands. Coupling Pop Up Grocer's quality product offering with bold branding and eclectic (read: content-worthy) interiors, Emily has created a company that considers the modes that consumption can be enjoyed at all touchpoints of the brand experience.

Photos: Heidi's Bridge, Aaron Bernstein

With the recent arrival of their second shop in NYC, and plans to expand nationwide, Emily contends that less store time can surprisingly create more opportunity to connect with her customers and collaborators in new ways. "Our relationships with our brands will ideally stretch throughout our openings," Emily tells me when I ask about the transitory essence of her business. "While cheesy, once we partner with a brand, we consider them a part of our 'family of brands' and thus, they're always top of mind for us, regardless of whether or not we have them currently inside a shop."

Much like the community-first approach that has fueled Emily's previous projects, she also attributes Pop Up Grocer's success to the connections that have helped bring her vision to life. Among them is Jen Levy. "Jen, the first person I connected with, is the designer and merchandiser of our pop-up grocery spaces," Emily explains. "I have had failed business partnerships in the past, and I think like any relationship, that burns you a little bit. So I think I was a little distrustful, and she has just shown me that I can trust again."

"Once we partner with a brand, we consider them a part of our 'family of brands' and thus, they're always top of mind for us, regardless of whether or not we have them currently inside a shop."

That element of trust has also extended to Emily's growing brand partner roster, which serves as the heart and soul of the Pop Up Grocer experience. "I've been really fortunate to have some amazing brand partners," she adds. "Similarly, some of the people I approached first were former clients or friends of former clients, but I would say that Rind Snacks was probably one of the first brands that I went to that was a stranger to me. We had no connection. It was just a product that I had found in the grocery store and was excited about myself."

Excitement is among the last words in our conversation. After we hang up our call, I think back to the Thing of Wonder event and remember Emily fluttering around the room—her cheeks reddened from adrenaline and her smile big and bright. It is a rare ability for someone to be able to create an atmosphere that is entirely immersive while knowing that the end-game is almost immediate. However, it is businesses like this that show us the all-consuming magic that can occur when we challenge our existing idea of what a place can do and be for people in the present moment.

Pop Up Grocer ultimately began with a journey abroad that awakened a love for food, and has evolved into a small but mighty business showcasing 150+ brands to date. What's ahead for Pop Up Grocer is still unfolding, but at this moment in time, I'm confident that Emily can enjoy the fruits of her labor.

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