Urban Outfitters: Culture Vultures

This past week, an Urban Outfitters opened across the street from my retail job in Northampton. The opening coincided with press that UO had pulled an “I Support Same Sex Marriage” t-shirt from its California shelves where Proposition 8 was recently passed because of supposed “bad internet press” and/or because it wasn’t selling enough. However, many articles are speculating that it has something to do with CEO Richard Hayne’s political agenda: he is a right-wing nutjob who donates money to Republican politicians like Rick Santorum, a noted gay-hater. This news was infuriating enough…

Hayne-us Beast

Hayne-us Beast

I went in for the first time today. The building was once an elegant bank, so you can imagine the store is huge. And totally disproportioned relative to other downtown shops’ square footage. It’s also one of the first majorly corporate stores on Main Street in Northampton (Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks are the only chains to survive; Coldstone Creamery, for example, didn’t make it). I look over at Urban while I’m at work and it seems to glare back smugly. It’s infuriating that a big shark like Urban gets to swoop into our small, gay-friendly community and steal business from stores like Faces, 25 Central, and yes, Essentials, too.

My experience inside the store today was maddening. For one thing, the holiday shoppers were putting on a shitshow. But more than anything, I was struck at how UO have taken everything cool and commodified it. The perfect flannel shirt you once scored for $2 at the Salvation Army (or from your dad’s closet, if you’re like me) is marked up to $48 in their Urban Renewal line. I noticed the beautiful suitcase-style turntable I’ve owned since I was 17 is a mere prop to enhance the store’s atmosphere rather than a vehicle to they unique sound of vinyl; a signifier for membership in a covetable subculture. It’s sick to me that people think they can buy authenticity at a corporate chain. Once, being cool meant having radical ideas, and now it means buying into trends like a sheep.

I’ll end my rant with a quote from the New York magazine article, where I originally read about Hayne and the shirt: “When a right-wing Republican is the one concocting your anti-Establishment image, you start to wonder if the entire hipster movement has been duped into becoming puppets of Hayne’s billionaire income.” Yep, it’s time to start being a more informed consumer. I won’t be patronizing Urban Outfitters anymore.


2 Responses to “Urban Outfitters: Culture Vultures”

  1. 1 Melissa December 15, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Does this mean you will let your Grammy buy you that skirt from Old Navy after all? 😛 Thanks for writing!

  2. 2 Ian December 17, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Seriously; absolutely bizarre. I wonder if they’ll make it or break it here in the Hamp. Coincidentally, I found this after I a gave a similar write up to the same UO in question.

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