The next-door expansion could add another 30 to 40 inside seats for the Pop Shop, plus room for more than 30 outside guests.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 4, 2021
The Pop Shop is growing again.
One of Collingswood’s best-known eateries is planning an expansion into the adjacent dining room of the now-shuttered El Sitio.
On Thursday, work crews were repainting the olive and beige exterior of the former Argentine restaurant with the familiar blue and white of its neighbor in preparation for the transition.
Owner Joanne Gardner said the remodeling, which is pending final approval from the borough, will transform the property at 729 Haddon Avenue into an additional, 36-to-40-seat dining room for The Pop Shop, while adding another 32 to 36 patio seats along its Washington Avenue face.
“What we learned during COVID is outside dining is something that’s not going to leave,” Gardner said. “[Diners are] going to want it forever. We’ll use the room as additional seating in the front of the restaurant, as well as being able to close it off and use it for small parties and business meetings.”
Gardner and her husband Gary had previously partnered with Pop Shop founders Bill Fisher and Connie Correia on its Medford location. They purchased the brand from Fisher and Correia in 2019, and made some improvements to the Collingswood storefront at that time.
Since then, the Gardners have also updated the party room at the Collingswood restaurant to include a buffet station for larger gatherings—something that’s been unusable under restrictions enacted during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
If approved, their renovations would seal off the Haddon Avenue entrance to El Sitio, funneling foot traffic through the main entrance of The Pop Shop. Inside, customers would enter the expanded dining space through a planned set of French doors. The new room could accommodate a private party of 25 to 30 people, for which Joanne Gardner said the restaurant has had plenty of requests.
“In the last three weeks, the calls for parties has been surprising,” she said.
“Little kids want parties; mothers want baby showers.”
The added square-footage also will allow The Pop Shop to accommodate socially-distanced indoor diners.
With restaurants and retailers only recently allowed to welcome 35 percent of their capacity limits (up from 20 percent prior to February 4), those establishments with more physical space have been able to salvage some additional business.
(That thinking was behind Pop Shop neighbor Occasionette‘s acquisition of a secondary storefront, The Joy Shop, across the street in advance of the 2020 holiday shopping season.)
Nonetheless, Joanne Gardner said the impact of the pandemic on the restaurant is “difficult beyond anything I ever expected to happen.
“Sales are probably down 60 percent; maybe some days more,” she said. “Costs are the same, but we can’t book parties, which are a huge part of the Pop Shop. When there was takeout, unfortunately, we had no outdoor dining, and that hugely impacted us.
“All of these things together, now with having El Sitio, I think it’s going to be a great thing for us,” Joanne Gardner said. “I am hoping that at someday we are 100 percent again.”
If everything goes as planned, the Pop Shop could be welcoming guests in its new dining room within a couple of weeks.
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