Buying Shipping Containers

4 Shipping Container Retail Spaces That Give Other Stores A Run For Their Money

I’m sure you’ve leisurely meandered around local boutiques on a day out with friends, gone on a break-the-bank shopping spree at a ridiculously overcrowded mall, or even lazily lounged around, ordering a couple go-to essentials from an online store (most likely amazon). But have you stepped foot in a storefront that brings the trendy demeanor, fun adventure, AND comfortable convenience all in one spot? Try shopping in the new and improved Shipping Container Retail Stores, and I can insure you will! 


Around 20 million cargo containers are shuttled through U.S ports each year, and recently, are dropping anchor in the unlikeliest of places -- shopping centers! With their reliable portability, ‘lego-like’ building process, and ability to adapt to a plethora of architectural visions, it’s no wonder customers are being exposed to this modern, contemporary way of shopping.  


As strange as it may seem, innovative architects are revamping those utilitarian steel boxes into the basis of their business operations, giving storage containers the power to ‘rock the boat’ even off their cargo ships. Nothing quite says ‘get a load of this’ like the unique and versatile features of shipping container loads that have begun paving way for the future of retail. Alright, that’s enough play on words for the day... 


Whether it be in San Francisco, New York, or even Canada, here are some of our favorite shipping container retail stores: 





You’d have to be living under a rock to not recognize this critically acclaimed, much-written about masterpiece. Opening just a few years back, the San Francisco neighborhood of Hayes Valley made room for the now-hottest spot in SF -- AETHER. This trendsetting space is extremely á la mode to the up-to-date shoppers browsing The Proxy, a temporary shipping container village hosting a coffee shop, ice cream parlor, and Biergarten.

This latest, hip addition was carefully curated by architectural firm, Envelope A + D, in collaboration with design partner, Thierry Gaugin, as well as Chris French Metal -- an Oakland based fabrication studio which provided the custom metalwork. Stacked with 40 foot shipping containers, and soaring three stories high, this work of art features a hovering cantilevered lounge area equipped with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a pair of iconic Eames leather loungers. Walk on reclaimed oak floors past a custom steel shelf, and admire the belt-driven "dry cleaner" style conveyor system, which boasts the meticulously selected outerwear-focussed merchandise. Next time you’re in San Francisco, look out for the heaping pile of dark grey storage containers, accompanied by a row of planters and outdoor lights that provide a warm, homey touch.





This quaint, humble sportswear store stresses the value of how sometimes ‘smaller is better,’ through their intentionally minimalist design plan, and single 20 ft shipping container storefront. This online luxury brand strode outside their comfort zone by opening up a storage container pop-up brewed on the premise of thrill, constantly attracting customers with a thirst for adventure. When putting this idea into motion, the owner’s first thought was to give shoppers a rare experience by cashing in on the cargo container’s mobile features. Plopped down in an unspecified toronto park, frequent followers of the clothing label are required to sign up for the newsletter to get hints on the stores whereabouts, giving potential customers a more intriguing escapade than usual. This attention demanding clothing store is attired with GlassHaus Living windows, parquet flooring and Finium wood panels that illuminate the modest interior, and a vintage suede sofa imported from Lean on Rack in Belgium, sitting beside an adaptable Offi Mag table. This chic sportswear brand, designed by Sean Brown, hopes to reflect their emphasized message of  “well rounded living [that] has been inspired by but not limited to design, travel, flora and architecture” through the multidisciplinary composition of shipping containers.  


3. Richard Chai

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There’s not much else to say about this shipping container retail store, besides the fact that it’s quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever laid eyes on! This retail popup is in partnership with Snarkitecture, the New York based design firm, and Richard Chai himself, a fashion designer -- which seems all too fitting for this fashion-forward retail store. Hidden beneath the high line of New York City, this inventive approach gives art museums a run for their money through its artistic integrity. In working with Snarkitecture, they aim to replicate the most unique and unknown, reflected through the company’s name, which emulates Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of The Snark, a poem that highlights an embarking voyage on the hunt for an ‘inconceivable creature’ -- two words that perfectly sum up the final product of this storefront. Not only does Richard Chai present a voguish layout, lacking any dull moments, but it additionally engages customers through unexpected and memorable features. With the help of Snarkitecture, the importance of experience comes to life through their vision of work focussed on the “reinterpretation of everyday materials, structures, and programs to new and imaginative effect.”  Bringing a whole new meaning to the word ‘cool,’ this retail store is nothing short of a masterpiece.


4. Uniqlo Pop-ups

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With the help of design studio LOT-EK, America was able to meet Uniqlo, a Japanese casual wear clothing brand, in a more innovative and unparalleled way than imagined. Taking the nation by storm, this retail space was designed to tour New York City as it traveled from neighborhood to neighborhood, showing face for special events and functions. These tiny pop up stores, manifesting the silhouette of two 20 ft cargo containers, involve vertical windows aligned with shelving that creatively display merchandise from an outside view, luring customers clad with curiosity into the storefront. Conserving as much space as possible, Uniqlo Popups incorporates a custom-designed fitting room that manually gathers towards the ceiling in an accordion fashion, as well as dressing mirrors that line both ends of the containers to visually elongate the limited capacity. Time to ditch the common glow of Times Square and experience the luminating features within the store, such as the linear bands of light installed on both the floor and ceiling. Not only does Uniqlo believe their clothing is “constantly innovating, bringing more warmth, more lightness, better design, and better comfort to your life,” but ironically enough, so does their retail pop-up.

Due to high construction costs and the increasing role of design-forward architects, many have taken notice to the flourishing popularity of those so-called Shipping Container Retail Stores that have been unloaded in a multitude of city centres. Those avant-garde tourist attractions are mobile, cost-effective, AND provide for a ‘one of a kind’ branding opportunity -- justifying why such forward-minded business developers have turned to upcycling retired vessels to showcase their collections. All that’s left to do is drop down a couple 20 foot shipping containers, put up a parking lot, and before you know it, you’ll own the most cutting-edge storefront there is!

Written by Container Guru / July 31, 2019

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