You know the place. It was a vacant lot when you went by this time yesterday. It'll probably be a vacant lot again this time tomorrow but right now, there's a shop there that looks like it came out of Charles Dickens — or maybe H. P. Lovecraft. If you go inside, you'll find a quirky old shopkeeper who has any number of potentially magical — and potentially inconvenient — artifacts available for sale. Cheap. Today only. Just for you.
Just don't expect a liberal returns policy.
Originally a literary device from the surge of weird fantasy writing in the 1920s and earlier — H.G. Wells used it in The Crystal Egg (1897) and The Magic Shop (1903) — The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday still turns up occasionally. Nowadays, it's often a website. Frequently an element of the modern Creepy Pasta, when the store is virtual it overlaps with Murder.com.
Inn Between The Worlds: Another impossible place that's almost always stumbled across rather than deliberately sought out, but at Inns the payoff for visitors is usually good company and good stories rather than material trinkets.
An accidental, curious stopover at a store of this type sets up the entire plot of Video Girl Ai.
And, later in the story, the Store Clerk at Gokuraku Video rebels against their cynical intentions, and opens a rival Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday, Neo Gokuraku, whose goal is to find and protect the pure hearted before Gokuraku Video can screw them up.
In one of the Ranma 1/2 stories, Kuno purchases a phoenix egg from such a shop.
Akane went to a similar shop and got a recipe and ingredients for a magical snack food (but she messed up the recipe and it tasted awful along with doing the exact opposite of what it intended).
In the anime, a number of mobile versions of these show up — to be precise, traveling salesmen who sell magical stuff. There's also an anime-exclusive antique store with a haunted bra (the owner of which asks them to guard it from the underwear thief), and Ryoga in the manga has a weird knack for stumbling across magical stores.
Contrary to popular belief, this didn't show up that often in the Sailor Moon anime. While Jadeite had a habit of creating businesses from thin air and staffing them with a thematically appropriate youma, most of the other villains on the show simply took over existing businesses until they were uncovered by the Sailor Senshi. In one case, though, Palla Palla created a dentist's office in SuperS, which did turn out to be another business like Jadeite's.
This is the type of store Yuuko the Dimension Witch runs in xxxHOLiC, although it deviates slightly from the norm in that it will be there tomorrow. The key to being able to see and enter it, however, is that you must have need of Yuuko's wish-granting powers. Presumably this is very convenient for dealing with encyclopedia salesmen. She does eventually say that the shop was built specifically for the sake of helping Syaoran and Sakura-hime of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, racking up magic credits from the wishes she grants until the day they needed to be used.
One of these traps Sasami in an episode of Tenchi in Tokyo. (Although, neither she nor Tenchi had ever been in the area before, so nobody knew that the shop was magical.)
In ARIA, Akari winds up in a cafe that is usually only open to cats. Sure enough, when she walks out it appears to have been long abandoned.
The eponymous pet shop in Pet Shop of Horrors tends to stay in one place a bit longer than most of the listed examples, but still has the ability to vanish mysteriously overnight, and fits the trope precisely in most other ways.
Chapter 2 of the Read of Dream manga features a library that wasn't there yesterday. It only appears once every ten years, and you can only take out one book at a time. But when you die you can spend eternity reading what seems to be every book in this and any other world. Just so long as you return every book you borrow.
Kaede gets the coffee mug that starts off the whole Wagamama Fairy * Mirumo De Pon! series, but only in the anime. In the manga, her mother gives it to her as a souvenir from her recent trip.
In Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch Pure, there were two instances of this, both set up by the villains. One was a videoke house (that somehow had the heroines' songs in their list), and a fortuneteller's tent. Both in the same place, but not at the same time, of course. One character even noted it.
Yuki buys an antique coffee grinder at one of these in Silent Möbius. The shop is actually a front for a Lucifer Hawk (demon, basically) that sends her back in time, setting up a slightly strange romance and Stable Time Loop.
Subverted in the 90's version of DC's Starman. Jack (Starman, on the run from the Bad Guys) ducks into an alley and discovers a fortune teller's shop that he's never seen before. He thinks it's something like this trope... until the fortune teller explains that she's been there for a few months, and there's nothing mysterious about Jack not noticing.
Ostensibly, this is where Gizmo the Mogwai was purchased in the first Gremlins movie.
In the sequel, the shop gets bulldozed and replaced by the little skyscraper mall that wasn't there last week.
From Beyond the Grave, a 1973 episodic horror film from Amicus "I want to be Hammer" Productions, similar in structure to the more popular Dr. Terror. The shop keeper (Peter Cushing) sells cursed antiques to four different customers, all of whom end dead before they could return them. Okay, one of them survives; I won't say who. In the final scene, Cushing breaks the fourth wall and attempts to sell something to the audience; the camera escapes and the shop door closes.
In the film version of Needful Things, the proprietor turns out to be the devil.
In the 1984 The Neverending Story, The bookstore from which Bastian gets the book is empty and abandoned as if for years when he returns. In the original book, the store is still there, although the storekeeper says that he has never seen the book that Bastian took.
Terry Pratchett did this once or twice in his Discworld novels:
In The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, Twoflower the tourist has an ill-tempered, sentient piece of luggage that he bought in one of these tavernes vagrantes, or "mysterious wandering shops" (he asked for "traveling luggage" and got Exactly What It Says on the Tin), and the characters actually enter such a shop in the latter book. It turns out that the shopkeeper was cursed by a wizard note Well, it says "sorceror," but probably doesn't mean it who had an unpleasant retail experience.
That actually cranks it up a thousandfold on the creep factor if you consider the events of Sourcery - what if it WAS a sourcerer and the poor bastard has been travelling millenia...
The Light Fantastic also discusses several alternate theories about the phenomenon. For example, one explanation is that a race of highly advanced alien merchants learned to escape the heat death of their universe through dimension traveling technology.
In Soul Music, a mysterious little shop that was always there (but wasn't always there yesterday) is actually still there the next day. When two of the characters comment on this (and one insists the shop was on the other side of the street last time), after they leave, the strange old woman who runs the shop says, "I'll forget my own head next," and pulls a lever... at which point the shop moves across the street.
These shops appear in the game DiscworldII: Missing Presumed. While inside, you can witness the shopkeeper pulling a lever. Once you leave, you are in another part of Ankh-Morpork.
There's also a traveling shop in the Discworld MUD, which sells some very rare items, and is useful for getting to distant locations.
Lampshaded in The Wee Free Men, when Tiffany exits a witch's tent and refuses to turn around to look at it, because "either it would still be there, which would be disappointing, or it wouldn't, which would be worrying".
Subject of the novel Needful Things by Stephen King. Lightly subverted in that the building itself was there yesterday and will be there tomorrow: it's run as a perfectly normal small town curio store, complete with "coming soon" signs before the grand opening and regular business hours. (Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment.) Less suspicious that way.
Of course, given that the story is by Stephen King, the question is: Will the town still be there by the time all is said and done? The answer is, "No." This was the last Castle Rock story, for just that reason.
This is the entire premise for the Magic Shop series of books by Bruce Coville, where children buy powerful magical relics from a magical shop like this, usually ones that teach them An Aesop.
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher has the title character buying a dragon's egg from the magic shop, which he then finds out he has to hatch. (Actually, the egg chose him. Dragons apparently have the power to attract their own prenatal egg-sitters.)
In Jennifer Murdley's Toad, a girl enters the shop and ends up buying a pet toad. The shop owner didn't warn her that said toad could talk, and was not only a smartass, but also had a bounty on its head — or more accurately, in its head.
In Juliet Dove, Queen of Love, an extremely shy girl named Juliet goes into the store, but instead of the old man we have come to expect, a strange woman gives her a necklace - which can't be removed. It's the amulet once owned by Helen of Troy, and has the same effect on all the boys in Juliet's class...
In a short story in one of Bruce Coville's "Book Of" anthologies, a young man who expresses interest in the metamorphosis stage trick (where the magician switches places with his assistant) and is given a bag and an instruction manual. The instructions say to sleep in the bag every night over a certain period, and when he complies, he starts to grow wings. This story is actually one of the few times where what the character wants from the shop more or less matches up with what the character needs, because he happens to live with an extremely abusive uncle...
It's called "Elives' Magic Shop", incidentally, on account of the proprietor being a man named Elives. The Aesop behind each item tends to be that they've been given what they want, but it's been subverted in a way that teaches them what they need.
The Goosebumps series contained several books about "The Haunted Mask", in which the eponymous mask was always purchased from the Little Shop (which had conveniently closed when the unhappy owner attempted to return.)
The shop makes a brief return in The Scream of the Haunted Mask, where we learn that it had previously vanished entirely, leaving behind an empty plot of land.
Literally, in several endings in "The Little Comic Shop of Horrors"
This and several other tropes are subverted in "The Little Magic Shop", by Bruce Sterling. In the early 19th Century, a young man stumbles on a little shop in New York. The proprietor, Mr. O'Beronne, presses on him several magic items, finally persuading him to buy a bottle of youth potion in exchange for all he possesses. "Really? How much for two bottles?" They strike a bargain: Whenever the man comes back he can buy another bottle on the same terms. This doubly frustrates the shop owner: He has to stay put and keep his shop in business (changing it with the times), and his customer stubbornly refuses to learn the obvious Aesop about the futility of unnaturally prolonged life. Despite all this there is a happy ending for both.
The shop from which Cassie, of The Haunting Hour Volume One: Don't Think About It, purchased the book was located down an alley, changed its room layout to prevent her from leaving until she made the intended purchase, and disappeared soon after. The owner did stick around long enough to give them a cryptic (and by "cryptic", I mean "reasonably obvious") clue as to how to deal with the thing that had been unleashed. And to remind her that she had broken the first rule of the book...
In the book The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones, a funny old man sells strange science kits that do magical things. He also sells bright pink footballs. At the end of the story, his shop has vanished — or more accurately, been bulldozed.
Alfred Bester and Roger Zelazny's Psychoshop is a pawnshop, accessible from apparently any time period or place in the galaxy, "where you can dump any unwanted aspect of your spirit as long as you exchange it for something else". And, oh yeah — all exchanges are final. The Psychoshop is actually a lot more benign than this trope usually is, though.
The Store, a novel by Bentley Little. A nice little patch of land turns up bulldozed one day. Despite a dead guy under some knocked-over trees, the eponymous store is built and all kinds of horrors, mundane and supernatural happen. Anything can be bought, if you ask the right questions. From the oddly possible, powerful firecrackers for a nickel, to the insanely impossible, such as a video game called 'N*** gerKill' (not censored) . Eventually the whole place goes cockeyed, the villains seemingly defeated but...a small farmer's market several hundred miles away terrifies a traveling couple.
The 1915 Lord Dunsany short story The Bureau d'Echange de Maux features a little shop in Paris where men may exchange whatever "evil" or burden they feel they have for twenty francs. Once a trade is made, a client will never find the Bureau again.
Appears in the short science fiction story Doodad by Ray Bradbury, in which a man on the run from The Mafia or equivalent helps a man who turns out to be a shopkeeper of such a shop: it sells "gadgets, gimmicks, doodads, doohingeys" and so on, which are composite imaginary tools capable of doing anything that any item ever described by that name can do.
The eponymous shops of The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt. In fact there's a whole chain of them throughout the Empire of the title.
A sort of science-fiction variation on the theme was taken in ''Impossible Dreams'' by Tim Pratt, in which a Movie buff discovers a Video/DVD store in another reality where differing history has led to different movies (The Magnificent Ambersons is available in its uncut form, but Citizen Kane is a lost film, there was only one Indiana Jones movie and it starred Tom Selleck, there is a big-time actress who doesn't exist in our world, etc.); in an interesting subversion, everything he can get out of the store is useless due to interdimensional regional DVD differences and such. Oh, and only nickels are legal currency in both worlds.
In the novel Tattoo by Jennifer Barnes, Bailey, Delia, Annabelle, and Zo go to a variant of this, a Cart In The Mall That Wasn't There Yesterday. An old woman is selling temporary tattoos. These tattoos give each of them a different power. It is revealed that the old lady was the goddess of the sea, trying to get Bailey to realize that she is The Chosen One.
Another science fiction example, from Jack Williamson's novelette "With Folded Hands..."; the protagonist of the story (a dealer in ordinary, garden-variety, non-enslaving-the-human-race-for-our-own-good robots) is walking home one day and finds a new competitor has sprung up overnight, a robot store run by the Humanoids.
The Room of Requirement in the Harry Potter novels is an indoor, self-service version of this.
In the Liavek shared-world anthologies, the shops all stay decently put, but an entire street, Wizard's Row, comes and goes, as well as changing its appearance in accordance with the whim of the magicians who live there.
Fritz Leiber set one of his Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser novellas in a Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday, called the Bazaar of the Bizarre. It's a shop set up by an extra-dinensional being.
The children's book The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling, has a boy who loves chocolate to the point of obsession buy some from a little shop he never saw before... It gives him sort of a "Midas touch", in which everything he eats is transformed to chocolate as it enters his mouth. Even a chocolate lover can grow quickly sick of it when he can't even have a drink of water. But even worse is what happens when he gives his mother a kiss...
Walter The Weremouse features: An old lady, a secret reading room in a library, some strange phone cards, an eleven key on payphones, and some strange cheese, all of which appear only under very specific circumstances. The old lady is at the center of it all, and she eventually turns out to be the daughter of a renowned supernatural expert, and terrible procrastinator; she's the daughter he never got around to having, the reading room is full of books he never got around to writing, and in fact he never got around to becoming renowned or even a supernatural expert. She appears to people who make up the dregs of society, but nonetheless have the potential to be something much more if only they were able to get around to it, and gives them the means to get around to it.
A short story from an old issue Isaac Asmov's Science Fiction that went something like: The protagonist - a dentist - noticed a new donut shop on the way to work and bought some. He noticed that when he dunked them in milk (his personal donut-eating technique) they sucked all the milk into the hole with incredible force. After some examination he determined that they were mobius donuts, with a half-twist in them. With a little experimentation with some extracted teeth he had in his office, he realized they really, really liked to "eat" calcium and he considered what would have happened if he had taken a bite. He went back to the store and jammed two donuts together whereupon the store disappeared fairly spectacularly.
H. P. Lovecraft's The Music of Erich Zann features a variation of this trope: the protagonist is never able to find the street he lived by ever again, after the events of the story, despite of the fact that he had a normal landlord, and the street had many other inhabitants, as well.
Harlan Ellison attempts to explain the phenomenon of the mysterious shop in his 1977 short story "Shoppe Keeper".
Mentioned in Terry Car's 1964 short story "Touchstone", but ultimately averted.
Randolph Helgar: If I come back here a week from now, will this store still be here? Or will it have disappeared, like magic shops are supposed to do?
Shopkeeper: This isn't that kind of store. I'd go out of business if I kept moving my location.
In Deadly Quicksilver Lies, Garrett exits the witch Handsome's shop without asking her a question he should've. He immediately turns back, but the shop entrance has vanished. Being Genre Savvy, Garrett isn't surprised, figuring it serves him right to be denied a second chance to ask.
William F. Wu's "Wong's Lost and Found Emporium" is about such a shop from the point of view of the shopkeeper.
Spell My Name with an S is the fortune teller version of this. Subverted in that we learn about the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who are the reason for it.
It's a bit of a subversion, since Sardo has no idea how to actually do magic or how the stuff in his shop works. He's just the middleman. His shop being mobile is probably something in the store beyond his control.
Not so much a shop as potential employer in Malcolm in the Middle. After eavesdropping on a coworker's phone interview, Hal took off to a building he'd never been to before for a new job. He'd never remembered it being there before. He went through a lot of weird trials and tests as part of the interview (say, spy-type stuff), and when he decided against the job...the entire building was gone the next day.
In the How I Met Your Mother episode 'The Best Burger In New York', in which Marshall finds a mysterious restaurant that serves, well, the best burger in New York, only to mysteriously disappear when he tries to find it again. He's not the only one; even Regis Philbin has been trying to find the joint.
The club where all the beautiful people are from Seinfeld.
Hikari Photo Studio in Kamen Rider Decade is an odd example, since it's also the main characters' home and the hub of their inter-dimensional travel. It also seems to replace an existing shop as long as it's in any given world, as evidenced by the brief Running Gag of natives entering, looking around, and asking "Wasn't this a coffee shop?"
Wong's Lost and Found Emporium from the episode of that title of The New Twilight Zone.
A Bit of Fry and Laurie has a little roadside flower stand that wasn't there yesterday. Its owner is mysteriously capable of discerning that it's evening, even though he's not wearing a watch.
The Colbert Report: Invoked by Stephen in this segment. Stephen conludes that things keep going wrong in the cleaunup of the Mexican Gulf oil spill because someone keeps making wishes with a cursed monkey paw bought in such a shop.
Michael Scot used this ruse in the first episode of Shoebox Zoo, to the bemusement of nearby builders.
Happens in The Real Hustle and it often works like this. Customers find a brand new phone store has opened selling phones extremely cheapy; but the catch is that the store doesn't keep the phones so it'll take a day or two for the phone to turn up, you still need to pay upfront but it's extremely cheap...even cheaper if you pay via card. Of course by the time they come back to the shop it's gone and if they were unfortunate to use their card it's been cloned.
One of the cons actually relied on the mark knowing this. Some guy on the phone talks about this valuable plate he found at this booth in the flea market, except he didn't have enough money to buy it. So he describes the plate and asks the friend he's talking to to bring some money and buy the plate. The mark overhears the conversation, and goes to buy the plates themselves. The plates, of course, are worthless, but the con wouldn't work if the mark knew the booth would likely be gone by the next day.
The villain (Ethan Rayne) in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Halloween" opens a costume shop that sells items bewitched to make their wearers actually become the things they dressed up as.
This was the basis for the Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show episode "Curio Shoppe". The titular shop sells magical antiques that let the trio live out their daydreams. When they go back to show Eric Nagler, the shop is gone.
Dark Dungeons RPG, supplement Samaris, Island of Adventure. In the city of Southport there's a small magickal shop called the Bizarre of the Bizarre. It can only be found at night, and even then only sometimes. Those who find it can buy the most wonderful gifts and items of all. Unfortunately most visitors never realize that these objects are mere delusions hiding worthless junk. Or are they?
One rulebook for the Scarred Lands setting introduced The Midnight Peddler. While not truly a shop, it was the same idea; this fiendish creature was a peddler who appeared in cities at midnight on foggy nights, and someone who bought his wares might gain a boon or a curse, depending on their luck. (In game terms, buying something from him gave a character a randomly chosen temporary bonus or penalty to an Ability Score or some other stat.
A shop like this is where Seymour buys Audrey II in Little Shop Of Horrors. He even says the Trope Name almost verbatim.
Time Hollow has not only the store that wasn't there, but also the store that used to be there... and some other Fridge Logic moments
The World Ends With You does this with one of its missions; namely, a competing ramen shop opens up and somehow closes in the span of one day. Somewhat subverted, as you can get the ramen shop to reopen depending on certain actions later in the game.
Pokemon Ruby And Sapphire has Mirage Island; the chance that it appears is the same as winning a Master Ball in the daily lotto, except that boxed Pokémon don't count. If you actually manage to get there, you'll find a bush with a single Liechi Berry (the best Berry for Pokeblocks) and a LOT of wild Wynaut.
The Black Emporium from Dragon Age II, run by the immortal Xenon the Antiquarian. Only those personally invited are able to find the shop, however Xenon warns if they decide to get rid of the charm he gave them, they will be rendered unable to do so, even if they already know where it is.
It should be noted, this is actually impossible to do in-game.
It should also be noted that the Templars do occasionally manage to make their way to the shop with the intent of burning it down and destroying the many odd and dangerous items inside (it's never clarified if they're led there by a current customer or stumble across it on their own). What actually winds up happening is Templars being squashed flat by golems.
The title rural New Englandtown of Anchorhead has one (complete with odd old shopkeeper), which is also the source of a key artifact you'll need to win the game.
HERO does not have any little shops that weren't there yesterday. However, it does have an enormous oceanic base-on-stilts that wasn't there two seconds ago.
MSF High: Subverted: While Donovan's sword is said to be an ancient artifact wielded by a destined hero bought at one of these, it was revealed to be made by the Magic Teacher, who runs her own company!
Memoria: The house in The Lost Woods may not have appeared, but it's certainly not there when the police check out it.
One of Those Shops is an experimental branching Round Robin writing project whose premise involves the main character ending up as the owner of a Little Shop.
Googling "Spells R Us" yields a huge number of stories that fit this trope, and usually have male characters getting objects that turn them into girls. These are based on a series that was started in the 90s by "Bill Hart".
The Barber has a Barbershop that wasn't there yesterday.
This trope is a rather popular concept among branching Round Robin writers. Two of the largest interactive branching round robins, the Anime Addventure and the Unending BE Addventure (both contain material that is NSFW, especially the latter; BE stands for Breast Expansion), even have some storyline threads (often involving Ranma 1/2 characters, appropriately enough, the anime addventure has a much higher proportion of relatively normal action/adventure or non sex-related storylines) where there's an an entire street filled with all manner of different Little Shops That Weren't There Yesterday, usually including Spells R Us. And sometimes Stephen King's Needful Things too.
There is a Creepypasta story about Super Mario 64 where the protagonist buys his copy of the game from a strange website advertised in a pop-up ad. The website is gone by the time he starts experiencing...problems...with the game. Read it here.
Similarly, Ben Drowned has its protagonist getting a haunted Majora's Mask cartridge from a garage sale. When he comes back to talk to the old man he bought it from after the game begins acting... strange, he finds that his house is for sale. Really, this trope seems to be common in creepypasta about video games.
Site 19 of the SCP-Foundation, according to one of the propositions for SCP-001.
The people that SCP-385 was confiscated from are implied to have purchased it at one of these.
The Simpsons, of course, parodies this in one of its Halloween episodes. See the quote above.
The following season, Homer buys a cursed Krusty Doll at a similar shop in Springfield.
The pilot of Clerks: The Animated Series has both the Towering Skyscraper That Wasn't There Yesterday ("That's new.") and The Glossy Shopping Mall That Wasn't There Yesterday ("I find it hard to believe no one noticed that either."). The Skyscraper remains, but the Mall soon disappears... less because of magic, and more because Jay and Silent Bob blow it up.
In Kim Possible, Ron's parents adopt a child from the Adoption Agency that Wasn't There Yesterday. By the time Kim and Ron realize his sister has super powers, it's a newly-opening pet store. Fortunately, despite her super strength, Hana is friendly and benign (toward the protagonists, at least.)
Played with in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Magic Duel" and the shop where Trixie acquires the Alicorn Amulet. The shopkeeper certainly fits the trope, as do the curios of the shop.
Without the mystical elements, it's not too surprising to see various shops come and go within the malls and various single-landlord shopping complexes in America.
Same with franchised stores.
Also, there are the travelling peddlers who display their wares at touristic places, who never settle in the same place for long.
It's not uncommon for stores to open and close down within a month in southeast Virginia. A lot of these types of shops pop up in malls peddling airbrushed t-shirts, which despite their prevalence don't actually seem to be in high demand.
Pike Place Market in Seattle has a section designed for rummage sales, and another section for itinerant vendors ("day stalls"). The labrynthine architecture of the Market also lends itself to having shops and stores that are easy to miss, especially in the "Down Under" section that specializes in curios.
Happens on-line all too often. It's either
1. A scam (especially if it's on it's own URL and the URL itself looks suspicious), or
2. A small-scale seller who just did it as an experiment and got tired of it after all his wares are sold (happens frequently on eBay and Amazon).