Let's rethink everything,
ON CANAL is a district for pop-ups where brands, artists & startups can test out new ideas and engage with the public in a high traffic location at the intersection of SoHo and TriBeCa. Twenty previously vacant retail storefronts, a majority of which sat empty for years, are now operated by Wallplay, the experiential arts & innovation network that repurposes empty spaces. ON CANAL is co-curated by Vibes Studios, with the aim of creatively re-imagining retail.
Since 2013, Wallplay has been filling empty retail spaces while practicing a 50-50 business model where original programming, focused on arts & social impact, is subsidized by corporate rentals & sponsorships. ON CANAL was created by Laura O’Reilly, CEO of Wallplay and Sonny Gindi of Vibes Studios, in partnership with an alliance of forward thinking property owners, led by father and son duo, Albert & Jack A Laboz of United American Land, LLC. ON CANAL, the district for new ideas, will continue to evolve over the next year.
A history of commerce
After Canal Street began its historical journey, from a literal canal in 1819 to a bustling thoroughfare, its retail history commenced with electric motors and mechanical parts suppliers, who served a market of technically savvy manufacturers. After the end of World War II, storefronts soon adapted to selling military surplus goods leftover from the war, which remained the primary retail stock until the late 1950s. From the 1960s until the early ‘90s, Canal Street was the center of mom and pop hardware and electronic stores, whose main clientele remained as blue collar and highly technical as they had traditionally been. But by the 1980s, clientele began to shift from construction workers and inventors to SoHo creatives who would likely repurpose a motor for a performance art piece before fixing up a car.
The 1990s led to a unique shift in the neighborhood West of Broadway. Hardware and electronic shops, although there are still hints of them operating along the Canal Street, were mostly replaced by novelty shops, discount stores, and knock-off fashion that was not formally sanctioned by the property owners. Since 2013, Canal has become infamous for its ghost-town appearance, as the property owners phased out illegal businesses. Long known for its mercantile quirks, over 3,000 pedestrians every hour, and a rich history of serving the arts community & innovators of New York City, Canal Street remains one of the most highly trafficked thoroughfares in the five boroughs. For generations, this street has served those who bring new ideas to life, from the long-forgotten circuit shops and the recently mourned Pearl Paint, to the still operating Canal Plastics & Canal Rubber.
Environment & Innovation
ON CANAL’s partnership with Luke Namer’s grassroots organization, Osmunda launches at the end of September. Osmunda seeks to “re-wild” New York, providing access to educational resources that encourage the public to be sustainable and environmentally conscious. ON CANAL, Osmunda will reflect and educate on the history of Canal Street from an ecological perspective, beginning before streets were ever paved above the bodies of water below. Activations and implementations will include free-to-the-public conversations with experts, experimentation with solar powered exhibitions, and farming methods for city living.
Wallplay is a member of NEW INC, the world’s first museum-led incubator. NEW INC was founded by the NEW MUSEUM in 2013 and is dedicated to supporting innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship across art, design, and technology. Wallplay has been building its tech platform at NEW INC to provide opportunities for brands to empower, uplift and innovate through partnerships with thought leaders on compelling projects that push culture forward. Wallplay is passionate about helping social impact companies, artists & startups reach large audiences.
About the founders
Wallplay is an experiential arts & innovation network that operates & programs empty retail spaces. Founded in 2013 on the Lower East Side at 118 Orchard Street, with art billboards and a two-floor popup space, Wallplay pioneered a unique 50-50 business model. The company is able to provide subsidized space for at least 50% of its annual use to creative projects, social impact startups, and curators by hosting commercial projects & pop-ups that allow Wallplay to dedicate resources to original programming.
In the process of becoming a certified B-Corp, Wallplay’s mission is to repurpose vacant spaces around the world and utilize them for public good. Wallplay operates these vacant spaces until landlords secure permanent tenants. Their platform, which showcases creative projects, enables property owners & brands to become patrons of culture. Wallplay provides access to leading creative entrepreneurs, startups, arts organizations, storytellers and thought leaders for experiential projects that push culture forward. For the past five years, the company has been turning storefronts into playgrounds for new ideas.
Sonny Gindi is the Creative Director and founder of Vibes Studios. The studio is engaged by brands, retailers and landlords to elevate brick and mortar experiences. Gindi and his team specialize in working with brands on creative strategy and production, focusing on designing “shareable moments” that bring instagram IRL. Vibes Studios transforms physical space by cultivating opportunities for consumers to express themselves and connect with brands experientially. Gindi also runs the Instagram @vibes where he curates beautiful images for his large following.