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CartWheel's Jessica Rogers looks to the next pop-up frontier

Kansas City's pop-up pioneer Jessica Rogers is behind CartWheel.



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In 2008, she found an instructor who recognized Rogers' ambition. The teacher proposed an idea: Rogers could run an art-reuse center, a place to sell used art supplies and hold workshops — similar to Kansas City's ReStore shops, Rogers says, but with art. She liked the business plan and came up with a name that put a playful twist on the recession she was about to graduate into: Recess. But the deal involved buying property, so Rogers shelved the idea and moved on.

After graduation, she and her dog went on a six-month cross-country car trip that stopped for a visit in Kansas City with an art-school friend who had grown up here and had landed a job with the Plug Projects art space. Rogers kept going, eventually landing in Brooklyn, but a week into her New York move, she was broke. Her Plug Projects friend offered her a roof over her head, and Rogers returned to Kansas City in September 2009.

She took a position running an after-school art program for children at the Mattie Rhodes Center, then began teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute while serving as a manager at the Genessee Royale.

A West Coast vacation during the summer of 2011 left her awed by the pop-up business scenes in California and Oregon. She saw parking lots full of trailers, trucks, buses and tables offering burgers and bracelets and clothes and collectibles and on and on.

"You'd see them in grungy areas and then in nice neighborhoods," Rogers says. "What an opportunity to reach a broad market."

A mobile shop in Portland particularly caught her eye. Vintage clothing and handmade accessories were for sale in a converted camper trailer called Wanderlust. It had opened in the fall of 2010, when Portland had a few hundred food trucks but no mobile fashion shops. In less than two years, its business has grown enough that owners Vanessa and Dan Lurie have opened a second Wanderlust, this one in a brick-and-mortar storefront.

In June, Wanderlust was featured on the Today show as well as in USA Today. Both stories focused on the boom in mobile businesses on the nation's streets. Restaurants, hair salons, florists and clothing are increasingly on the go in cities such as Austin, Los Angeles, New York and Boston, according to USA Today.

Some of these places have put tougher restrictions on their traveling businesses. In downtown Boston, nonfood mobile retailers can sell under a hawker and peddlers license, but not between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., according to a September article on The Atlantic's Cities blog. Even then, they must move after every sale or every five minutes, whichever comes first. The owner of a truck business selling men's apparel is leading a petition for change, the story says.

What Rogers had seen in Portland fueled her next chapter. "I can do this in Kansas City," she recalls thinking. Two weeks after returning from her West Coast trip, she bought a 1969 Wigwam trailer off Craigslist. Driving to her Waldo home one night, she thought of what she would call her new endeavor. "I knew I wanted a name that was playful, jovial, youthful and made sense," she says. "I was thinking out loud: 'It's a cart. And it's on wheels ... CartWheel!' "

Several months after the business made its October 2011 debut, Rogers found a more spacious home for her shop: a bus whose days of transporting the elderly to a church in Greenfield, Missouri, had ended. After gutting and refitting mobile space No. 2, Rogers passed the first camper to a friend in St. Louis, who transformed it into The ReTrailer: a mobile tea parlor.

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