The Real Deal New York

Retail cashes in on Obama fame

April 30, 2009
By Jovana Rizzo

Don’t be surprised to see a dish in honor of President Barack Obama turn up at your local restaurant. New York City eateries have been naming items, and sometimes their own shops, after the president. Sixpoint Craft Ales in Brooklyn named a beer after the president, called Hop Obama, but the Department of Homeland Security made the brewery stop producing the beer. And two fried chicken restaurants, one in Brooklyn and the other in Manhattan, renamed their restaurants Obama Fried Chicken. Also, Ray’s Candy Store in the East Village has been advertising its Obama coffee, Obama cheeseburgers and Obama fries since before the election.

Robin Abrams, executive vice president at Lansco Corp., compares the shop owners using Obama’s name to products with celebrity endorsements, and says as long as the public has a positive image of the president, retailers will probably keep naming products after him.

“Cashing in on positive public thinking about Obama is something that makes sense,” Abrams said.

But some say using the president’s name for stores or products is disrespectful. “It desecrates the president’s position, his stature and respect that’s owed to him by being president,” said Alan Victor, another Lansco executive vice president.

Some New Yorkers agree. Rev. Al Sharpton and about 20 area residents protested Obama Fried Chicken in Brooklyn, saying that it conjures up racial stereotypes, according to a story last month in the New York Times. A spokesperson for the White House said it disapproves of using Obama’s name for commercial purposes.

The president is not the only one making waves in retail. Fashion purveyors are benefiting from the extensive coverage of Michelle Obama’s style.

After the first lady wore a J. Crew ensemble on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and was photographed in London wearing the retailer’s apparel, sales online and in stores skyrocketed. J. Crew promoted the clothing on its Web site and traffic to the Web site increased by 464 percent compared to the previous day.

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