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Wednesday Walk: Where's the Friends?
A not so friendly Central Perk, the world's worst fanny pack, and living in a lighthouse
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As is typical every Wednesday, I’m bring you a smattering of topics that I hope will make you a bit more curious about the world around you and give you something to think about later. I call these Wednesday Walks, as it’s the type of conversation we might have walking down a path in the woods. Shall we take a stroll?
One of the headlines making the rounds in Boston at the moment is that the city will be host to the first permanent Friends themed coffee house. It’s slated to open this October and will be located on the trendy Newbury Street.
Whether you watched every episode of Friends or only happened to catch 5 minutes of it on a plane once, you probably have an idea in your head of what a Friends themed coffee house should look like. Something like this, right?
That image is not the coffee house coming to Boston, but is from a Friends themed pop up experience in New York City from 2021.
Here’s what the Boston coffee shop will look like, according to renderings that have been released.
I am of course kidding! The above image looks nothing like the set of Friends and is actually a look at interior updates at Panera. Obviously nobody would open a themed coffee bar set in a 1990s sitcom and use that as their decor choices, right?
Yes, that’s right. For some reason, Boston is getting a “Friends themed” (those are air quotes) coffee house that looks like a Panera or Starbucks inside. And it’s fully endorsed and licensed by Warner Brothers.
I have so many questions about this. Why not New York, where the show is set or LA, where the show was filmed? What’s the Boston connection to Friends? I think Matt LeBlanc grew up in Newton maybe.
And who is the intended audience? Again, Boston is not a magnet for Friends tourists. Maybe this is a pilot for an eventual roll out of thousands of Central Perks across the country?
At this time, details are scant and most press coverage is just laden with quotes and references from the series to get fans excited.
This reminds me a bit of the time that Max Mutchnick, creator of Will and Grace, donated one of the sets from the show to the Emerson College Library. Many years ago (and perhaps still), the set was displayed in a hallway in the library behind glass. It didn’t look quite like it did on TV and was a quirky addition to our college experience.
I’ve written before about why we flock to the filming locations of TV shows. The “Friends” coffee house feels bizarre and unsatisfying on a number of levels, but perhaps there’s something I’m missing. If you “get it,” please leave a comment below and let me know what I’m missing.
#NoNewClothes- Week 50
I am two weeks from completing the challenge to go an entire year without purchasing new clothes, which was originally inspired by a newsletter I wrote about Amory Sivertson. I’ve only broken the challenge by buying one new shirt, plus two other vintage pieces (a Sears sweater and a used Patagonia flannel).
This week, my mind is on swag, the gear with company logos that often gets shared with employees and clients as a gift.
I did some lurking on a Subreddit for Whole Foods Market employees a few weeks ago when writing about the cameras at the self-checkout lanes, and the Reddit algorithm has proceeded to email me various posts from team members ever since. One caught my eye recently, where user Technical_Use_4440 asked other employees “Were you a victim of TMAW Fanny Pack Catfishing?”
I came to find out that TMAW stands for Team Member Appreciation Week, and that this year, employees had the option of a T-shirt or this fanny pack. The size of the bag in the photo above shows how comically small and impractical it is, but beyond that, it also sounds like it is incredibly poorly made.
Here’s a sampling of what people are saying about this fanny pack:
“It's not even sewn properly! It's already fraying!”
“It's too small for my phone, I guess I could try putting half a protein bar in it.”
“My phone barely fits in it. lol It’s 2 slabs of the thinnest material sewn together”
“The Fyre Fest of Fanny Packs”
It’s disappointing that Whole Foods, a company which historically has made it’s name on sustainability, seems to have put so little thought or effort into gifting its team members something useful and durable, instead opting for what seemed to be least expensive from a logo printing company.
This whole fanny pack situation reminded me of some swag that somebody had ordered when I worked at This Old House. Our logo was printed on a pen that looked like a cheap plastic wrench. It was a mildly clever sight gag until you realize that a rectangular wrench does not make a good shape for a pen. It also had a cap that was easily lost. It was a well intentioned but completely useless purchase.
At one time, I could be easily excited by anything free with a logo on it, but these days, I am really only interested in logo gear if it is thoughtfully designed and well made. The imported bulk quantities of cheap plastic branded goods simply feels wasteful in today’s world. I even resist free T-shirts unless they are in my size and are in a style and color that I would wear.
This change is generational, with younger, more eco-conscious consumers being less interested in stuff for stuff’s sake. Cruz Corral, a content creator focused on the differing attitudes towards work between Baby Boomers, Gen Xs, Millennials, and Gen Zs made a video about corporate swag recently that really drove this point home:
At the other end of the spectrum, one of my local sauerkraut makers Real Pickles recently debuted a new line of hats that I adore and would happily purchase. They are thoughtfully designed, printed in Hadley, MA (about 30 minutes from the Real Pickles facility), and made using organic cotton and recycled plastic. These hats check so many boxes for me that I should be calling Bingo!
These hats are not giveaways; they cost $30 in fact. But I would much rather pay that much for a useful hat showcasing a company that I support, rather than get a subpar hat for free that will end up in my closet or eventually, a donation pile.
If anybody reading this is among the people that are charged with ordering swag, giveaways, and promotions for a company, I implore you to please seek out high quality products and order less of them. They may cost more in the end, but the return on investment will be better because people will actually wear and save nice things, where as wrench pens and poorly stitched fanny packs simply end up in a landfill.
For those of us on the receiving end of swag, I would ask you to consider what you really need before accepting another free T-shirt or hat. Maybe if enough of us give a polite “no thank you” more often, there will be less of these products being shipped half way across the world only to end up getting tossed away after a few uses.
Finally this week, I wanted to share a video about Sheila Consaul, a Virginia woman who purchased the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse just east of my hometown of Willoughby, Ohio in 2012.
Consaul has spent the last decade renovating the old lighthouse and the challenges of both updating and living in this lighthouse are fascinating to me.
Even though the communities around the lighthouse are very developed, the building itself sits on a rocky point that juts into Lake Erie. It has no utilities and no access by car. Anything going to the house or coming out of it either needs to be carried by hand across the sand or transported by boat.
The Fairport Harbor Lighthouse is an icon of Lake County, Ohio, and it’s fascinating to hear about the challenges and joys of living in such an historic structure.
Check out this tour from CNBC Make It for more:
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Other Wednesday Walks
If you’ve missed past issues of this newsletter, they are available to read here.