A Ghost Store Takes the Pop-Up Concept to the "Other Side"

A Ghost Story Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of A24

But the marketing stunt for A24's 'A Ghost Story' isn't actually selling anything.

Spend fifteen minutes inside A Ghost Store, and you'll leave with more questions than answers. 

The pop-up shop, situated between a sushi joint and a tea garden in Chinatown in lower Manhattan, is one of A24's marketing schemes for their latest spooky drama, A Ghost Story (in theaters July 7). The meditative flick, written and directed by David Lowery and starring Rooney Mara and a mumbley Casey Affleck, isn't easily surmised in a 2-minute trailer, so it was unclear as to what to expect to be sold at store. Branded merch? A shirtless Affleck action figure? (Sadly, neither item is stocked here.)

A Ghost Store, which is open to the public Thursday through Sunday, instead "sells" sheets for you to wear in the afterlife — or as they call it, The Other Side. Naturally.

The schtick is one of several attempts by companies like A24 and Hulu who are looking to play into millennials' desire for experience over merchandise — like, for example, Hulu's partnership with buzzy avant-garde design collective Vaquera, which created a Handmaid's Tale capsule collection that was paraded at a fashion show in New York City but not made available for sale —  as well as the current retail market's obsession with pop-up shops and the "it won't last long" mentality. 

At A Ghost Store, "customers" are welcomed by a greeter dressed head-to-toe in sterile white garb. The man, with shaggy shoulder-length blonde hair, didn't offer much more information than the name of the shop and the presence of questionnaires located towards the rear of the store which were to be filled out at the customer's will should they want to be fitted for a sheet. 

Following the concrete floors to the back of the store, shoppers are faced with eerie notes strewn across the stark white walls: "The transition from active participant to passive observer can be a difficult one," reads one message; "It's time to let go," reads another. There are also double entendre descriptors of the "product," including "Built to last" (that's for an eternity, we're guessing) and "one size fits all." In another corner, there was a 1970s-era TV inexplicably showing an image of a pie baking in an oven.

The garments were available to try on once customers filled out the "Survey of Fitness & Resolution" (Sample prompts include: No. 1, "Illustrate your understanding of time," and No. 08, "A farewell to someone"). Guests — allowed to enter either alone or in a group — are then directed behind a heavy linen curtain reading "Check Out the Other Side," where a soft-spoken woman, also clad in head-to-toe white, assessed survey answers, nodding her head and looking participants up and down, and making this writer wholly self-conscious that maybe "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop" was an inappropriate response for No. 04: "Deepest curiosity." 

Following this assessment, the woman takes a photo which is later printed as a Polaroid as an Instagrammable memento of the strange event. Next, a switch is flipped to reveal that the mirror in the fitting room is actually a two-way panel, behind which stand three mannequins, also outfitted as ghosts. Yes, the revelation is shocking and will likely make you jump.

In my experience, the attendant led my friend and I one after the other behind the glass, where we stood on the plywood floor and were told to enjoy our time on The Other Side. She closed the door behind us. For a moment, we stood there waving our arms, giggling self-consciously and wondering whether or not our voices could be heard behind the panel. After what felt like 5 minutes but was more likely only 30 seconds, I reached for the door, unable to handle the strangeness (or stuffiness) for too much longer, for fear of getting dangerously self-reflective about the experiment. 

The digital experience (what, you thought a millennial targeted campaign didn't have a digital experience?) is equally jarring, as shoppers are expected to hold their mouse for more than 8 minutes as a series of messages ("Go back;" "Remember her") are splashed across scenes from the movie as eerie music plays in the background; customers are only then able to access the options for selecting sheet type (Egyptian cotton or jersey? The color white or pearl?) or inputting measurements. 

Each experience, whether on The Other Side in Chinatown or online, is no doubt unique — and, like the film itself, is something to be digested over time. After all, when it comes to questions about the afterlife, there aren't any true answers. (Well, except the pie reference. The film makes the pie motif within the store abundantly clear.)