Brasil Owner Dan Fergus Launches “Airbnb For Retail” in Montrose
In 1993, architect Dan Fergus opened Brasil Cafe on the corner of Westheimer and Dunlavy. With its excellent food and sunny patio, the restaurant quickly became a neighborhood favorite, drawing people from all walks of life. In 2000, Fergus bought the house directly west of Brasil on Dunlavy and turned it into a retail space—over the years it’s hosted Domy Books, the Brandon, and She Works Flexible—and in 2005 he completed the puzzle by purchasing the smaller house to the south at 2608 Dunlavy, forming an L-shaped configuration of buildings surrounding an expansive back courtyard where Fergus now shows movies and stages events.
“For years we had terrible neighbors,” Fergus said, laughing. “There was a guy who sold Persian rugs and fixed computers. On two different occasions we were next to a tattoo shop, one of which was painted bright purple. I remember that my ex and I used to sit on the roof [of Brasil] and make plans—like, we’ll do this with that driveway, we’ll plant this there.”
In the same spirit of innovation, Fergus recently unveiled a new plan for the building south of Brasil that previously housed Space Montrose (now across the street on Westheimer) and the Flexspace art gallery. Rather than look for a permanent tenant, the architect decided to try something he’s calling “Airbnb for retail.” The idea is to rent out the 700-square-foot storefront to as many as three retailers at a time, on a month-to-month basis; a pop-up shop that stays up.
“We wanted to do something that was more interesting than the typical pop-up shop, and to keep the quality high so that there would be some continuity from one thing to the next,” Fergus explained. The space’s first two tenants are the local home goods and accessories retailer Saint Cloud and the Austin-based Casablanca Living, which sells handmade Moroccan crafts and home goods. Fergus is actively seeking out future tenants from as far afield as New York, using demographic data collected by the Montrose District to make his pitch. “I want to be able to present [potential tenants] a book with all that information in it, to show them what the neighborhood is like.”
Fergus believes the space is perfect for web-based retailers like Saint Cloud that want to physically display their goods and expose their brand without signing a multi-year commercial lease. “You’re going to pick up a lot of people who might not have been targeted by your PR,” he said. “You can do the advertising e-mail blast once and then it’s gone, but this is something that promotes their brand for a few months.” And Montrose, with its walkability and density, is perfect for attracting window-shoppers, he said. “Why do we travel to San Francisco? Why do we travel to New York? It’s for those street-level, intimate places. We’re unique in Montrose precisely because we have an actual neighborhood.”
Before deciding to go with the “Airbnb for retail” model, Fergus flirted with the idea of turning the space into a modern-day bodega—those small corner grocery stores ubiquitous in cities like New York and Chicago. He ultimately nixed the idea, deciding it would be too much hassle. Then, by sheer coincidence, Saint Cloud and Casablanca Living decided to call their pop-up shop Bodega. The universe was clearly trying to tell Fergus something. “I’m going to see if they’re cool with me taking the name,” he confided. “It’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
Bodega: A Pop-Up Shop by Casablanca Living and Saint Cloud. 2608 Dunlavy St. Th–Sat 11–7; Sun 11–4.