Target's CBGB-themed East Village Promotional Event Was Not Well Received
Music fans can be protective. Especially in the punk rock community, people who see themselves as "purists" or "lifers" might be quick to call out those whom they believe are "posers" or "sell-outs." It doesn't take someone deeply rooted in the punk rock scene to see some problems with Target's latest promotional campaign, though.
Even though the iconic Manhattan music venue CBGB has been closed for years now, its identity is still firmly tied to underground music, having boosted the careers of the likes of The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads and more. So, when Target opened its new location in the East Village—a neighborhood seeing rapid growth and gentrification—and created a promotional display depicting elements of the neighborhood, including the large tenement buildings, newsstands and the iconic CBGB club. Target even went as far as replacing the "OMFUG" message under "CBGB" with "Bands," which was connected to the hair bands, band-aids and resistance bands Target was giving out as promotional items.
Full disclosure: I actually shop at Target. But this - as part of the new store in the East Village - spits in the face of everything CBGB stood for. pic.twitter.com/3Pz9MmsaLo
— Earl Douglas (@edouglas528) July 21, 2018
According to the New York Times, Laura Sewell, executive director of the East Village Community Coalition called Target's promotion "really pretty tasteless. To find a Disney fake version of whatever it was they thought they were—they're just off."
Target ended up apologizing for the stunt, saying they were wrapped up in the enthusiasm of the new location and wanted to celebrate the East Village's history. Though, in a part of New York City rife with gentrification, it's fairly tone deaf.
"We often host a one-day celebration that shows the neighborhood how excited we are to be a part of their community," Target wrote in a statement. "We sincerely apologize if some eventgoers felt it as not the best way to capture the spirit of the neighborhood. We always appreciate guest feedback and will take it into consideration as we plan for future opening events."
Target's whole promotional campaign, in an attempt to celebrate the neighborhood's history, came off as offensive to others.
Jeremiah Moss, who writes a blog called Vanishing New York, had this to say:
The façade is draped in vinyl sheets printed with images of tenements, the same sort of buildings that get demolished to make room for such developments. Here they sit, hollow movie-set shells, below the shiny windows of the high-end rentals. They are the dead risen from the grave, zombies enlisted to work for the corporation.
A red newspaper kiosk announces the opening of the store with a fake newspaper (decorated with a bull’s-eyed water tower, as if hunters have it in their sights), and it brings to mind the lost kiosks of the vanished Village Voice.
There’s even a fake fire hydrant and red-painted park benches.
In front of an Alphabet City bull’s-eye mural, you can pose for pictures with props—a guitar, a record album, a slice of pizza printed on foamcore--the stuff of the once iconoclastic East Village.
Who are the people in your neighborhood?
Those with direct ties to the erstwhile club don't feel that Target's apology was sufficient. Chris Stamey, who played the venue throughout the '70s and '80s in a variety of groups, said, "I think it's a pity that a teenager sees the Target store and thinks it's all a cartoon."
It's not the first commercialization effort tied to CBGB. There's a CBGB-themed bar and "record store" at Newark International Airport, and shirts with the iconic lettering are still visible all throughout the country.
This is a valuable lesson for distributors who work with signage. It's a fun idea to immerse yourself in local culture and give your clients an opportunity to create a sense of belonging and respect to a location's history. However, Target should have done its homework a little more. CBGB closed due to disputes with its landlord and the rapidly growing cost of operating in the East Village. And a lot of people who grew up in the neighborhood were forced out as rent prices and cost of living became too much. So, for a big-name retailer to reference something that created a sense of identity to the old version of the neighborhood felt spiteful to some.
"To see the artifacts of my own life, my cultural and spiritual awakening, my home, displayed above the cash registers in a Target store is to be cast into a state of confusion and dystopic dysphoria," Moss wrote. "What am I seeing? Who are these people? What happened to the world?"