On Tuesday night, a major retailer ended the day with an apology to customers.
"We made a bad decision when we purchased this product," Marta Calle, CB2's President and Chief Merchant wrote in a statement to Yahoo! Shine. "We apologize for the product and the insensitive language used in its description. We have pulled the product from our stores and our website. Please accept our apologies for this lapse in judgment."
The insensitive product is no longer available at CB2, Crate and Barrel's younger, edgier spin-off: A coffee cup wallet.
It may seem innocuous at first glance, but several news outlets took offense when the wallet appeared in CB2's latest catalog.
First of all, there was the product's name: "The Lucky Beggar Wallet," a reference to the coffee cup's use as a method of gathering spare change.
Then there was the description: "Street Fare. Inspired by the iconic blue and white coffee cup often seen in the hands of New York City panhandlers, this quirky wallet begs to be seen."
At a time when a record number of New Yorkers are homeless, not everyone considers desperation and poverty quite so "quirky."
"Imagine being reminded of shelter overcrowding and underfunding, the economic disenfranchisement of our veterans, and the health care system's failure to provide services for the mentally ill every single time you take out your wallet to pay for an overpriced iPhone stylus or an off-brand Jenga imitator," wrote Jezebel's Jenna Sauers with biting sarcasm.
This isn't the first kitsch reincarnation of the vintage coffee cup. The classic symbol of a morning joe has largely been replaced by oversized Starbucks grandes covered in check marks. Now the "We are Happy to Serve You" logo has found a home in nostalgia merchandising. Urban Outfitters recently paid homage to the to-go cup with ironic ceramic mugs that only looked disposable. Several Internet retailers have also repurposed the logo on iPod cases and even cufflinks. For the most part, the to-go cup is a nostalgic reference to a pre-latte era. In CB2's case, the joke is on the profoundly unemployed.
"The thing is, if this wasn't marketed as a joke on homeless people, it would just be a wallet of a coffee cup," writes The Daily Kos' Laura Clawson. "But that apparently just wasn't cutesy and cutting edge enough, so some genius decided to ensure that the only person to carry the wallet would be, again, an a--hole."
The timing is particularly stinging after Hurricane Sandy displaced hundreds of New Yorkers; many are still relying on donations after losing their homes and possessions to the storm. Even before the hurricane, the city's homeless population was swelling due to the larger economic crisis. Over the past two years, New York City's homeless shelter population soared to some of its highest levels ever.
"Over 43,000 New Yorkers are relying on shelters—including a record 17,000 children—bedding down each night in municipal shelters," according to a statement by Patrick Markee, Senior Policy Analyst, Coalition for the Homeless.
The fact that CB2 is considered an "inexpensive" alternative to Crate and Barrel—designed for urban-dwelling customers who think a $1,800 dual chocolate sectional is a bargain—makes the whole thing more cringe-worthy. Particularly, when a family in need of a warm bed is likely within a mile from the customer's airy apartment.
This is the cold reality of the housing and financial crisis, made colder still when it's boiled down to a gag gift for "them that got."
As of Wednesday morning, the wallet was removed from CB2's website and will no longer be available for purchase through the retailer. CB2's fast, apologetic response was to their credit, but bouncing back from this publicity gaffe may require a little more on the company's part. One-way to make use of all those spare coffee cup wallets: stuff them with donations.