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The Interesting Phenomenon of Shipping Container Shops

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Shipping containers are used for more than transporting freight. In fact, they’ve been used on every continent on earth for storage and creating flexible, affordable shipping container shops.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the different places around the world that you can find shipping container shops, from the crowded streets of Central Asian bazaars to the bustling developments along Canada’s St. John River.

Where in The World Can You Find Shipping Container Shops?

Containers are used all over the world, from markets that have existed for decades to new developments that use shipping container shops that welcome customers with a creative façade. Let’s dive in and see where we can go by exploring the wide world of shipping container shops.

Re:START – Christchurch Central City, New Zealand

A shipping container shop in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Photo Credit: Jocelyn Kinghorn – Flickr, Used Under CC BY-SA 2.0 Permissions

In 2011, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook Christchurch and the eastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The earthquake destroyed the city center, causing $47 billion (USD) in damage in just ten seconds. Cathedrals, historic hotels and government buildings were severely damaged, and the city center experienced the worst of the destruction.

In recovering from this disaster, the local government of Christchurch wanted to keep the central city shopping district alive. Permanent structures would take, at a minimum, months to construct, and reconstruction work prioritized restoring critical infrastructure over retail shops.

As a result, local businesses eager to recover from losing their properties to the quake established their presence in the city center with shipping container shops. Because New Zealand’s economy centers around shipping ports for imports and exports, the country had an abundance of containers to utilize as temporary retail storage and shopping space.

Growing out of this idea was a peculiar, but ambitious concept: Re:START, a mall made of colorful shipping containers. The mall opened with 29 stores and a café, quickly bringing the local business community back into a dense shopping area following a catastrophic calamity.

A shopping village, the project filled a gap in the city that helped alleviate the struggling of the local economy, keeping people employed following the disaster. Without this project, the businesses housed inside may have left the community completely.

While the mall closed permanently on Wednesday January 31st, 2018, the utility of using shipping containers for shops was well demonstrated during the temporary project’s 7-year lifespan, keeping business running during a period of economic instability.

Dordoy Bazaar – Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Shoppers and merchants maneuver the alleys between shipping container shops.
Photo Credit: Vmenkov – Wikipedia, Used Under CC BY-SA 3.0 Permissions

Too big to be formalized, this informal market has been developing since the city was first settled as a caravan rest stop along the Silk Road. Since that time, the city of Bishkek has experienced many changes, but at the heart of the city still lies a commercial hub: Dordoy Bazaar.

Tens of thousands of shipping containers create an evolving marketplace, where shopkeepers barter with customers inside the ground-level container during the day and secure their inventory inside the upper container when night falls.

But why does the Bazaar use shipping containers? Are the Kyrgyz people catching on to the western trend of using shipping containers as industrial chic decor? Not likely. Across the former countries in the Soviet Union, containers are used in bazaars and marketplaces because they were a practical and affordable solution after the dissolution in 1991 and rapid economic liberalization.

Even though financial conditions have moderated over the last 30 years, containers are still ubiquitous features of markets, perhaps most pronounced in Dordoy Bazaar. Containers have become associated with these Baazars and have become ingrained in local marketplace culture.

Especially in open-air markets like Dordoy, containers help shopkeepers secure their inventory and establish business operations with less upfront cost than renting or building a permanent store.

Area 506 Waterfront Container Village – Saint John, Canada

Shipping container shops inside an outdoor mall.
Photo Credit: B3251 – Wikipedia, Used Under CC BY-SA 4.0 Permissions

(Image Credit: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 B3251)

A new shipping container shop development opened June 8th, 2022 in the uptown area of Saint John, Canada. With 56 shop locations, Area 506 started as a music festival, assembling temporary vendor locations to meet the needs of the festival attendees.

It has since developed into a mall open from May to November, closing down for the cold winter months. Beyond painted facades, graffiti art decorates the outside of the shipping container shops, expressing local culture and drawing in social-media savvy individuals eager for a unique selfie opportunity.

Instead of using shipping container shops as a necessity or temporary measure, Area 506 used containers intentionally to pay respect to Saint John’s history as a port city. Businesses that utilize the retail space also say that there’s a lower barrier to entry than renting a permanent commercial space, helping small businesses grow with low overhead costs.

The planners for Area 506 expect the site to expand as a key feature of the Saint John waterfront.

Summary

Shipping container shops allow businesses to establish their presence in a city when the cost of permanent buildings is prohibitively expensive.

Beyond necessity and utility, business owners can use shipping container shops as creative retail spaces, enticing customers to experience what makes their business unique, and grounding those businesses in the cultural heritage of their locales.

Interested in a commercial development like the examples provided in this blog? Keep in mind that we can provide you the containers, but you’ll need to enlist the help of architects and contractors to ensure the container structures meet necessary requirements for permanent buildings.

Curious about how your business can use shipping containers? We have extensive container modification experience and can help you focus in on the specific modifications that you need to make your container the perfect fit for your business. Contact us today, and we can discuss our available container options, and provide you with a quote.

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