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Reviewing Pick-Me-Ups, a Toronto pop-up that uses social media as currency

MilkUp’s event will cost you more than just an Instagram story
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Decorated cookies are one of the goodies customers can choose from at the dairy-themed pop-up. SKY KAPOOR/THE VARSITY
Decorated cookies are one of the goodies customers can choose from at the dairy-themed pop-up. SKY KAPOOR/THE VARSITY

It’s reality and not an episode of Black Mirror — Toronto’s latest pop-up store lets you purchase items without money.

Pick-Me-Ups is a dairy-themed pop-up created by MilkUP. Located on 639 Queen Street West, it operates on the premise that all goods are completely free — instead, buyers “post-to-pay” on social media by posting about the store, tagging @milkupontario, and including the hashtag #PMUxMilkUP. From there, visitors are offered a variety of milk-themed products, all made by small businesses. The space is open from Thursdays to Saturdays until October 2.

Before writing this article, I visited the pop-up three times in attempts to get the best experience. I really wanted to love it; the promise of free products seemed so appealing. But, like most offers advertised on social media, its promises were too good to be true.

My first visit was very enjoyable. I went with a friend on the second day it opened. We waited in a short line to enter. We were warned that, since it was the evening, most of the items had already sold out. If we had gone earlier, we could have browsed from beaded necklaces, vintage clothing, press-on nails, or pins — instead, these items were completely gone. Of the food options, only ice cream and a few milk beverages were left. There was a small selection of t-shirts and tote bags, with only the larger sizes remaining.

Still, it felt like a worthwhile trip. I ended up getting a tote bag, and I loved how cute it was — I’ve even used it since. I also made use of the venue’s aesthetic — it featured funky splatter mirrors and an entire corner of milk cartons — and took some fun photos. The highlight of my visit was undoubtedly the limited-edition peaches-and-cream crumble ice cream by RuRu Baked: a perfect mix of smooth and crunchy texture that I’m still craving. Although I wasn’t offered the pop-up’s full experience, I wasn’t disappointed, given that I’d put little effort into planning my trip.

My other two visits were a different story. After reading some Instagram comments about horrific lines, I decided to try to get the complete Pick-Me-Ups experience by witnessing how long their busiest wait times were, and testing if their merchandise was as pleasing as their food. 

A week later at noon, I returned to a line that wrapped around the block. It was only two and a half hours — and multiple moments of doubt — later that I was finally inside. Once again, most of the non-edible freebies were sold out, but there were more t-shirt colours and food options to choose from this time around. Given the amount of time I had already dedicated to my afternoon at the pop-up, I was in and out of the venue within 15 minutes.

Before leaving, I asked an employee how early I should arrive to get the best experience. They suggested 10:00 am — an hour before its opening. So, two days later, I arrived at 9:50 am — and entered at noon. In the morning shade, my wait felt slightly more pleasant. However, the availability I was eventually presented with was similar to that of the days before. The only item I hadn’t seen before was the collection of — admittedly cute — pins. Once again, I left quickly, not wanting to hold up the line.

Part of me wishes I could have purchased items with real currency. After waiting for two hours, I would’ve liked the option to buy a cute necklace or a pint of ice cream. Maybe it’s the consumerism that’s been deeply ingrained in me, but I wanted to feel some greater sense of accomplishment and would have happily paid for any product in the store.

So, is Pick-Me-Ups worth it? The answer depends on how much you value your time. That’s the true cost of the pop-up, because it’s what you’ll be spending the most of. 

As long as you can withstand a slow-moving line, you’ll be in for a treat when you get inside. The food is delicious, the merchandise is well-made, and the interior design makes for a perfect Instagram post. Especially since everything’s free, I can’t argue that there’s anything wrong with the experience — Pick-Me-Ups is a genuinely cool place that just doesn’t fully live up to its finely edited social media fame.

My advice? Arrive early — like 9:00 am lecture early — bring a friend, and slightly lower your expectations.