By Sabina Mollot
In the days following Donald Trump’s stunning upset, some New Yorkers who voted for Hillary Clinton found themselves instinctively heading to a certain storefront in Flatiron. A place they went in search of comfort, with other likeminded individuals with whom they could commiserate. And they did so while raising mugs — empty ones — with Clinton’s own mug on the side.
That place is, after all, not a pub but a home goods shop, Fishs Eddy, which, in the months leading up to last week’s election, had resembled a playful shrine to the woman expected to become the next president.
By October, the store was stacked high with the Clinton mugs. Other mugs bore her husband’s portrait with the caption “First First Man 2016.” Donald Trump made an appearance too on the side of an espresso cup along with the caption “HUUUUGE!” (He also appeared on a drink tray with the caption “You’re welcome” and a top selling “I’m HUUUUGE” set of condoms.) Other options for mugs included Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and cups bearing portraits of numerous Republicans like Marc Rubio and Chris Christie. President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was printed out on trays, a hot item since the beginning of the “birther” movement.
In the last week, however, the mood has been somber — the display of signs quoting some of Donald Trump’s more outrageous statements that had been in the window was replaced by a black curtain and a small sign reading “Thank you, New York. Keep moving forward.” A sign in another window reads simply “Organize.”
A recent post on the shop’s Instagram account noted that employees would be offering free hugs, and apparently, customers have been coming in droves to claim the offered shoulders to cry on.
“People have been coming here as a respite,” said Julie Gaines, one of the store’s three owners, on Monday. “People are coming in not to shop but to come be with people here.”
Gaines has felt it too. “Yesterday was the first day I didn’t cry,” she said. “I’m fine but the customers make me cry. They look at the wall dedicated to Hillary Clinton and they start crying, and I’m like, ‘Please don’t.’”
The mood was a lot different prior to last Tuesday night; specifically it was snarky, and, for some time now, decidedly pro-Hillary.
Before the presidential primary, the store’s window display was a 15-foot-tall, blue pantsuit. A sign behind it read, “In my White House, we will know who wears the pantsuits.”
Additionally, since October, the aforementioned wall devoted to Clinton, where the mugs are displayed, has been something of a destination for those in the know. The reason is a mock-ballot box Gaines put there, allowing customers to cast a write-in “vote,” with many of the votes being taped up on the wall. Gaines’ favorite write-in candidate was RuPaul, though she also likes the ones for Clinton that were written by young girls. “I liked when the girls write they’re excited to have a girl president,” said Gaines, who said there have been thousands of these “votes” made at the store. So much so that the employees have to routinely take them down to make room for new ones.
Meanwhile, a barrel full of $14 Hillary mugs had sold out by Monday morning.
But not to worry for those who want one, as there are thousands upon thousands on the way to the store from the factory, ordered when Gaines, like so many others, had predicted different results at the polls.
“We went into this confident and smug,” she sighed. “As a business owner this hurts in so many ways.”
However, Gaines’ support for Clinton was never just limited to ordering merchandise she thought would be popular among New Yorkers.
“I was looking forward to having a woman in the White House,” she said.
The store even held a fundraiser for Clinton in October, a drag bingo event that netted $30,000 for the campaign. Then, following Trump’s win,
Gaines allowed store employees to move their shifts around so they could attend the protests.
Not surprisingly, Gaines being vocal about her political views has not come without a cost.
While most of the time, “it’s preaching to the choir, it’s New York, we lose business, absolutely,” she said. “It’s always an out of towner who will come by from a red state, a red household. They’ll tell us what nerve we have and that we should stick to retail. I always say, ‘Why is that a rule if you have a small business?’ These are some of the same people who say they don’t have to serve gay people.”
That said, Gaines said she never set out to make Fishs Eddy, which she runs with partners Peter Kranes and Noah Lenovitz, political. The store, she insisted, is first and foremost about restaurant quality kitchen ware. The political element just oozed its way in “organically,” Gaines said, after hearing what her customers had to say.
Asked which of the former presidential candidates has been selling better, Gaines said they both sell well for different reasons.
“Nobody buys Donald stuff for themselves. It’s a joke gift to the Republican uncle,” she said. “But people buy Hillary because they want her in their home.”
Gaines also said she understands why many people voted for Trump, having heard the reasons from the Trump-supporting employees of a factory in Ohio that manufactures her company’s dishes.
“They talked about (their fear of) moving factories to Mexico,” she said. “I’m not blind, but I don’t think Donald Trump is the answer.” She added that she believes Trump voters were, like Clinton supporters, bothered by his remarks about women, Muslims and Mexicans, but at the same time, “what scares them more is losing their jobs.”
That, she explained, is why at the moment, her store’s windows aren’t defiantly calling for a revolution or mocking Trump.
“Our windows are — I wouldn’t say conciliatory, but (the message is) keep fighting. They’re not protest windows now.”
She’s used to this sort of conflict; her own home was politically divided prior to the election. “My kids wanted Bernie. I wanted Hillary; I thought she was more realistic. I’ve heard every opinion about it. Could Bernie have beaten Trump? I don’t think so. The whole middle of the country wasn’t heard. I think they voted for jobs.”
At this point, Gaines said she is trying to find a silver lining to the president-elect’s victory.
“I have a 20-year-old and a 25-year-old and I think Trump did this generation a big favor,” she said. “Now they have a cause. (Normally) they’re into promoting themselves and social media and he gave them a cause. It’s a reason to fight for women’s rights and children’s rights and minorities’ rights and healthcare.”
Gaines also perked up when mentioning that Clinton wrote her a thank you note for the fundraiser and the store’s “bold window displays,” acknowledging that Gaines has had to endure some “unsavory” comments.
But with Election Day now in the past, the store is in full holiday mode with just as much emphasis on the non-political items like plates and towels decorated with the New York City skyline and cups that read, “The customer is always wrong.”
In one section, everything has a Brooklyn theme. Another section resembles a country kitchen. Country music also plays throughout the shop, a preference of Gaines’. The store also offers a line of goods designed by actress Amy Sedaris and Gaines is now planning a design contest in coordination with Pratt Institute. Then there are the occasional book readings held onsite.
Gaines opened Fishs Eddy (named after an upstate hamlet) as soon as she was out of college, originally in a space on Hudson Street. Twenty-three years ago the store moved to its current location in the Flatiron District, bordering Union Square. At the time, the neighborhood was dangerous with no restaurants but was cheap to rent in. But while none of those things are true anymore, Fishs Eddy has no plans to go anywhere.
“Business is very good,” said Gaines. “We’re a small business that casts a big shadow. If you stick around and stay above water, people assume you’re bigger than you are.” But, she added, “We work really hard to stay alive, with all the big boxes. Small businesses are a dying breed.”
Now 30 years old, Fishs Eddy also sells to other stores, including museum shops, West Elm and Nordstrom’s, and there will soon be a holiday pop-up store in the Meatpacking District in the space last occupied by the Museum of Ice Cream. Fishs Eddy has actually had five locations over the years, though not all at the same time. However, at one point, Gaines said, around 2000, the business nearly went under. This was due to a combination of the owners overextending themselves as well as high rents and a difficulty sourcing quality manufacturers at a time when many American factories were closing their doors due to cheaper competitors from China and Mexico. It took a while, Gaines said, to find some offshore manufacturers that would produce goods at the quality Fishs Eddy wanted.
Not surprisingly, the company has found a way to inject some humor into the globalization issue. For instance, the Trump mugs all read “Proudly made in Mexico by Mexicans” on the bottom.