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Hot Pop

Hot Pop Images & Words: Zach Both

Journey into the Third Ward and you may find yourself in one of the most unique shops in Milwaukee. The boutique / gallery mash-up will instantly satisfy one’s visual senses with a mix of bold colors and far-out decorations adorning the inside of the store. Time to insert a clever metaphor? I think so. If a Japanese manga character and a graffiti making hypebeast hooked up, birthed a baby and that baby wanted to open a store; Hot Pop would be the result. With an interior and gallery that changes more than Kim Kardashian’s marital status, there is no reason not to take several trips to Hot Pop throughout the year. Whether you’re into art, local urban apparel or some funky designer toys, Hot Pop is the place to go. With parents who are obvious fans of alliteration, Margaret Martin is the woman behind the Hot Pop madness. We talked with her about the past, present and future of this fresh Miltown shop. Let’s get it poppin’.

How did the idea of the store with the gallery in the back come about?

I’ve always been a collector of art and really into the toy scene. I do a lot of travelling and when I was in other cities I would always try to find these stores and galleries. I noticed that in Milwaukee there was a lack of these types of stores, so I gave myself twelve months to do a bunch of research, talked to a bunch of other business owners in other cities about their experiences and put together Hot Pop in that time. It wasn’t based off one store, but more of a collection of stores and things I was interested in. I think the art and the toys and the other products we carry are all really closely related so it was important to me to have the gallery space that played off that as well.

Obviously there are some pop art and Japanese pop culture influences in the store. Is that something you were into when you were a kid?

I was maybe six years old in the ‘80s when my grandpa was doing a lot of business in China and he was bringing back Hello Kitty stuff for me. Like wayyy back when. So I was into that sort of thing since a very young age. Clean lines. Simple character design. It’s something I was really drawn to. It’s something that I’m stuck with and I still lean towards. So when the designer toy market came up, I was instantly drawn to it.

How do you find the artists that you feature in the gallery? Are they local? Do you bring them froM out of state?

It’s a mix. It’s mostly Midwest because we found it was difficult to get artists from farther away with shipping costs and everything involved. We wanted to keep are overhead as low as possible. So it’s mostly local. And we either have submissions where people will come in and show us their art or direct us to a website, or we know artists that we like already and invite them.

What kind of art are you looking for? What kind of art “fits”?

It’s kind of like a new-school art style. Very street based with graffiti and stuff like that. Mostly character design again, some pop elements from time to time. Somewhere in that whole jumble of categories. I don’t even know what to call it. [Laughs]

How do you decide what to sell in the store?

We’ve gone to trade shows where you go through a bunch of vendors and pick. Again, we get submissions as well for that. People sending catalogs. Also all of the employees sit down and decide what to sell. We have a very small staff of only three. With myself it would be four. We all have the same aesthetic sense and feel. It works really well. They get a lot of time with the customers and know what they are looking for. Customers also give us a heads up on something they would really like to see here.

Hot Pop opened in ’08. What do you think has changed since then?

Interestingly enough we are going to discontinue selling clothes after this winter season, except for local t-shirts which always do really well for us. We want to open up a space for more of the housewares that we have. I think those are the most transcendent item for our customer base and for the traffic that walks by. People can relate to things a little bit better if they can use it and it has a purpose, so we’re going to be pushing that up to the front of the store. That’ll open up another section that will hopefully provide more local things. We’re kind of switching up our strategy this year.

There’s definitely been a push to buy local lately so the fact that you guys will have some more local goods will be cool.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. The market always changes and it’s good to keep up with it.

Hot Pop A Hype MKE retail spotlight

The Low-Down

Many thanks to Margaret Martin.

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