The East West Holiday Pop Up Shop is saturated with festive warmth. A collection of carefully arranged, minute details amount to a stylish and playful space that invites you to browse, taste, test, and buy. From jewelry to teething rings, local jams to aromatherapy sprays, every corner is brimming with handmade charm.
Even when it is emptied of the holiday inventory from over 100 local and regional makers, the East West space is curated with great appeal. Nikki Whited, owner of East West, leases the location to house her expansive collection of vintage furniture and decor for rent. From mismatched vintage china to velvet loveseats, Whited has everything a person might need to create a unique atmosphere for their event.
“I’ve been a vintage collector my whole life,” Whited says. “East West is half my vintage showroom, so brides can come in and see what I have and what they want for their wedding, and we also rent the space out for people.”
Whited started the vintage rental company three years ago with her sister, Katie Witherspoon, who has since moved away. Whited, Witherspoon, and a friend hosted the first pop up at East West in the summer of 2013. It was a relatively small affair, lasting about 3 days and featuring around 20 vendors.
Since that inaugural shop three years ago, a lot has changed, but one thing has remained: the girl power that fuels this creative community event. The pop up’s three-woman organizing team has evolved, with Whited and the East West venue as a steady anchor. Whited is teamed up this year with Stephanie Mergelsberg, owner of Blackberg Creative Studios, and Sally Hudson-Coles, owner of Stellata Designs. Mergelsberg and Hudson-Coles have both participated as vendors in previous pop ups, but this year they have formally joined the planning team for East West’s largest and longest holiday pop up yet.
Mergelsberg has taken a lead role in the planning process.
“It’s become my baby,” she says of the pop up. “I love spreadsheets and invoicing. I get really nerdy about that.”
Whited agrees that Mergelsberg has upped the organizational game of the event.
“[Mergelsberg] brought a lot of organization and streamlined our processes,” she says. “She brought us into the 21st century with her square and her iPad.”
But Mergelsberg says the Pop Up is close to her heart for reasons other than her passion for organization.
“A core value of mine is to support independent businesses,” she says. “The shop-small, local dollar goes a lot of farther than buying at a big box store. I was drawn to the pop up because it does that. It’s another opportunity for makers to present their wares and have it reach the market.”
The Pop Up planning trio is completed by Hudson-Coles, owner of Stellata Designs. Hudson-Coles has a degree in Textile Furnishing Design and Manufacture and moved to Asheville five years ago from London. Her background in marketing and visual merchandising have been invaluable for organizing and displaying this year’s massive inventory.
The team learns something new with each passing event, but one definitive goal for this year’s Pop Up Shop was to be true to the name. The organizers are clear about the distinction between a market or craft fair and a pop up shop.
“The East West summer markets were more of a traditional craft fair style,” Mergelsberg said. “The vendors were here manning their booths. We’ve decided that’s not what we want to do. We want to do the pop up shop style — it’s different. Vendors drop off their stuff here and we create a retail space.”
This gives the vendors a much-needed break from the demands of craft fairs and markets.
“Craft fairs are really great, but they require so much from vendors,” Mergelsberg said. “It’s a lot of their own time and this is just really awesome for them to just drop their stuff off with us, and we take care of the merchandising and advertising.”
Mernie Wortham, owner of Asheville Soap and Sundry, has participated as a vendor in all three holiday pop ups at East West. While she enjoyed using Whited’s vintage collection to style her stall at past East West markets, she also acknowledges the pop up model is very welcome during the busy holidays.
“At Christmas time, after doing a lot of craft shows, I really welcome the thought of having my products at a place I don’t always have to be,” she says.
Asheville Soap and Sundry has a variety of inventory at the Pop Up, including shea butters, sugar scrubs, soaps, and facial serums.
Price, quality, and diversity were major factors in deciding what items to feature at the pop up. The organizers recognize that many people will hope to knock off several people on their list while shopping at the pop up.
“You want a high quality item, but we have to stay with somewhat affordable items, too,” Whited said.
Liv Varney, a shopper at the Holiday Pop Up’s grand opening on December 9, was impressed with the variety of unique, handmade goods available.
“It’s not just products that are made over and over,” she said. “You look down at the table and there are no two things that are alike. There’s so much to choose from and it’s always going to be unique.”
Varney’s roommate, Clack, found herself pleased with both the pricing and the variety.
“It’s not super over-priced, which is awesome, and there are lots of options,” Clack said. “Most of the time you go in and it’s all one thing catered to one type of person, so it’s nice to have options here.”
There are gift options for the foodie, including locally crafted jams, honeys, sweets, and sleek wooden cheeseboards. The dreamy children’s section is full of plush felt toys, mobiles, and a variety of children’s wall art. Holiday cards are available from a number of different artists, as well as apparel, home goods, and bath products. You name it, you’ll probably find it at the East West Holiday Pop Up Shop.
But perhaps more important than the variety of quality products available is the feel-good shopping experience that the Pop Up offers. Not only are you keeping your dollars within the weird, creative Asheville community that we all know and love, but you also get to enjoy a festive holiday event.
“It provides an enjoyable holiday shopping experience for people, which I think can be rare,” Whited said. “I think a lot of joy is sucked out of the holidays because of the hustle and bustle of it all. We love that we get to provide an enjoyable shopping experience for our community.”
The East West Holiday Pop Up Shop runs through December 17. Located at the East West Venue, 278 Haywood Road, the shop is open from 10AM til 8PM daily (closing at 9PM on Fridays). On December 16, the shop will be hosting an “Ugly Sweater Jam” from 6-9pm with live music, drinks, and food. Wear your worst holiday sweater!
For more information, visit the East West Holiday Pop Up Shop website.
Emma Castleberry is a freelance writer and editor based in Asheville, NC. Her writing portfolio can be found on her website.