Sunday, January 13, 2013

PicoShop: Reactivating Newstands to Create Tiny Retail

I am getting ready to reignite a project that I started proposing last fall. I've always thought the mostly empty newspaper boxes on SF sidewalks were a sorely underutilized resource that could be repurposed, so I am proposing PicoShop. I am going to build this with Arduino and iPhone, but I could definitely use some help if anyone is interested. 

PicoShop is a tiny pop-up retail space that leverages underutilized newspaper boxes to offer local designer/makers a public street presence to showcase and sell products.

By simply retrofitting newspaper boxes with a recycled iPhone, a Square, and a bluettooth-powered Arduino that activates an electronic lock, this underutilized street furniture that exists all over the world, can be reactivated. 


I think the 5M development at 5th and Mission in SF is an ideal location for this. There is something poetic about how the decline of the newspaper industry, the rise of online payment companies like Square, and the emergence of entrepreneurial makers like the Techshop's members all converge on this one site that is surrounded by a LOT of unused newspaper boxes. Square makes the transactions of these small product vending machines possible and it would be makers like the Techshop's members who could take advantage of such a simple retail presence. 

With a Square, an iPhone and an Arduino-powered electronic lock, any unused newspaper box in the world can be converted into a vending machine for locally-made products. Local designer/makers are thriving thanks to manufacturing help from places like TechShop, but getting public exposure is hard and driving traffic to your product website or Etsy shop can be a constant challenge. Why can't local makers showcase their products right where they are making them? Right out on the street where hundreds of people walk by every day?

The coin slot is retrofitted with an old iPhone and a Square credit card reader.

Once the Square app approves your purchase, a signal unlocks an electronic lock, allowing you to open the door and pull out one of the enclosed products.

Advertising panels on the backside of the newwstands can become advertising for the products in each PicoShop.


  1. I really like this idea.

    What's to keep someone from removing ALL of the items at once and not just one?

    1. Good question. When it's a <$1 paper it doesn't matter much, but this would be a problem when you factor in a ~$25 item. I've been thinking about a mechanism that would be spring-loaded to dispense another item once one was removed. Definitely going to be a key part of the success of the project.

  2. Is the PicoShop equipment works like vending machines? According to studies, vending machine actually uses less energy. If the PicoShop works like the vending machine, then it would benefit a lot of people.

  3. Hi 'kyle', i agree with your comment. Vending machines are actually used for saving the energy because these are energy friendly. If the PicoShop is working in the way like vending machines work, then it will be a better thing to use this.

  4. Pretty impressive for a blooming project. I think this would cater more people when it comes to one-stop retail. It's like one stand that supplies storage, fulfillment and distribution for mini companies like us passers-by.

  5. I'm seeing this as a nice decor in a house. You know, with different content. Maybe blogging files or craft materials. But really, this one is a nice retail project.

  6. That looks like an ingenious bit of technology right there. I'm piqued about the lock system though. I wish they have cheap versions of those you can buy in an appliance store, so you can use them to lock your house door or something to that extent.

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