Success Stories

The Empty Pop-Up Store that Attracted Tons of Visitors in Amsterdam

Written by Arielle Crane

For theatre-maker and performer Thomas Spijkerman, hosting an entirely empty pop-up store on a busy Amsterdam street was a no-brainer. His intention? To sell emptiness to any shoppers and passersby during the opening times of his shop.

Using this empty pop-up boutique as his outpost, Spijkerman popped up for one week, which gave him enough time to test out, and learn from his self-created project. We sat down with him to talk about the public’s reaction and why he plans to expand this concept worldwide.

  • The idea

“I’ve always wanted to start a store that provides emptiness to the people as a goal unto itself. It’s important when people come in, that [they understand] it’s not an art project. It’s a sincere attempt to sell emptiness and find the value in emptiness.” says Spijkerman.

There’s an allure in keeping a space in a busy city that’s stuffed with thing, one space in the city that is empty, where things can evolve.

  • The customers’ reactions

“Depending on whatever the person brought in,” adds Spijkerman, that sparked an idea for him to bounce off of. While many people who came into the space wanted to talk business, or discuss how he could improve on the store and concept to make more money, Spijkerman remained at, what he calls, the ‘zero’.

Other people “wanted to connect emotionally to it and tell their whole life story” says Spijkerman, highlighting what he calls the “philosophical concept about the zero” where “people brought their own stories to [the concept]”.

“We live in a time where everything has to have a certain goal, purpose or destination. Just being in some kind of goal-less space, and a place where just being there and having contact with the person selling the concept, is an interesting thing to have. People needed to slow down and connect with space.” says Spijkerman. He also noted that the concept was very similar to theatre in that with theatre, “people enter your own space and it becomes another space”.

  • The set-up

“There were all kinds of layers to the project: the materialistic part, the social part of making contact, and the philosophical layer. People react differently,” states Spijkerman. For some of the visitors, Spijkerman had to act as a soundboard, which therefore required some mental preparation. He told a few stories of people coming in who vented about their “days of emptiness,” and noted that the “emptiness became a symbol of positivity, awareness, and being connected to yourself”. While some individuals bought 2L of emptiness as an antidote for things like dealing with chemotherapy, others bought emptiness for Instagram. And, as Spijkerman states, “both are of value in this concept”.

  • The space

The space itself was perfect for me, in a great locations right by the most expensive street in Amsterdam. There were high ceilings, the space was all white, and we only worked with the black and white colors in the space.

As to the area, Spijkerman wanted “to disrupt the surroundings because of the big [retail] names surrounding my space”. He wanted to consciously disrupt daily life, and host the emptiness concept in a bustling area that had a “relation with commercial things”.

  • The experience

Everyone could experience something in the store – there was some kind of emptiness waiting for him or her. It’s just about what kind of emptiness that person was looking for.

While some people were visibly agitated, wanting to know what exactly the concept was and what it could bring them, Spijkerman stayed focused on his part of the bargain. “They had to bring a part of themselves; I was performing the conversation but I needed 50% of the genuine interest or curiosity and then it was going to make sense.”

The kicker? He actually sold around 180 euros of emptiness that week.

“People could buy emptiness. We had to make the concept in our fantasy of how the person would be able to use the emptiness, so it was a tailored experience in the person’s head.”

Spijkerman preferred the experience to stay abstract and be a “game of our fantasy”.

Photo: Janne Sterke

  • The next steps

“I want to make it a chain. The dream is to have a chain of empty stores around the world, not only in the big cities; but small villages. This can have value anywhere.” says Spijkerman.

People have their own ideas and feelings on emptiness, and Spijkerman hopes to spread this empty concept around the world.

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About the author

Arielle Crane

Arielle is the Communications Manager at Storefront. Beyond offering up insights on the future of retail and pop-up shops, she also loves to write, travel and watch documentaries. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.