Mrs. Field’s at ground zero: Something like business as usual

Mrs. Field’s at ground zero: Something like business as usual

Berman, David

WHEN THE TWIN TOWERS COLLAPSED they destroyed the Southeast Plaza Building (also known as 4 World Trade Center), which housed Mrs. Field’s Cookies. Mrs. Field’s is an international cookie and gift retailer popular in malls across America and foreign destinations from Australia to Qatar. Yet Mrs. Field’s fortunes in Lower Manhattan were not entirely lost on September 11. Mrs. Field’s second Lower Manhattan operation at the corner of Fulton Street and Broadway, a full service Mrs. Field’s Bakery complete with a TCBY (The Country’s Best Yogurt), Pretzel Time, and a deli area, inherited the key to success in the restaurant business: location, location, location.

The intersection at Fulton Street and Broadway has always been a high traffic, extremely visible area for commerce and promotions. The intersection is next door to the Fulton Street subway station, one of the busiest in New York, and is flanked by the historic Trinity Church, the World Trade Center, the Millennium Hotel, and City Hall. In the aftermath of the attack Fulton and Broadway became the primary destination for visiting and memorizing September 11. Unlike today, when pedestrians can walk along the perimeter of Ground Zero, in the months after September 11 access to the area was limited, with Fulton and Broadway the closest point for viewing the site. Most importantly, the viewing platform was constructed on Fulton perpendicular to Broadway and adjacent to Trinity Church. As a result, Trinity Church was converted into a twenty-four hour shrine where mourners paid homage with notes, candles, and flowers. And waiting for each person is Mrs. Field’s Cookies.

The Mrs. Field’s at Fulton and Broadway is the corporation’s largest store in terms of volume and concept. It was built as the flagship for the bakery concept that incorporates Mrs. Field’s traditional cookie and gift sales with a substantial space for in-store dining. In addition to the street-level store, Mrs. Field’s also operates a small satellite shop within the Fulton Street subway station.

In the year following the attack most retailers in Lower Manhattan saw dramatic losses in sales and customers, with many forced to lay off workers. A 6 December 2001 report by the Fiscal Policy Institute to the New York State Assembly on Economic Development concludes that economic devastation from September 11 forced hundreds of small businesses to close and predicts that others will be “threatened with extinction from dramatically lowered sales.” But the Fulton and Broadway Mrs. Field’s thrived. Dan Cataldo, regional manager of Cafe and Bakery Concepts, oversees the New York City Mrs. Field’s franchises. Mr. Cataldo and I spoke about the unique economic and social conditions at the intersection of Fulton and Broadway, the epicenter for remembering, viewing, consuming, gawking, getting to work, getting home, and experiencing September 11. In the post September 11 period Mr. Cataldo says the Fulton and Broadway Mrs. Field’s is even with or beating last year’s daily sales figures. Though Mr. Cataldo qualifies the store’s good fortunes by pointing out that they are still below planned revenue targets, he is frank when declaring: “We have benefited from 9/11.”

In an article in the New York Times on 31 December 2001, Michael Cooper writes from the viewing platform and describes Mrs. Field’s as “overflowing with people seeking hot chocolate, coffee, and restrooms.” Yet the scene Mr. Cooper observes at Mrs. Field’s is in stark juxtaposition to the conditions just several storefronts east, a bit out of sight of the viewing platform and Trinity Church and a right-side glance from the Fulton Street subway exit, where a falafel restaurant, cleaners, and shoe repair store are all closed. Never has the adage “out of sight, out of mind” rung truer. And if location provides monetary success, it offers too a different window to the word. Says Mr. Cataldo in perfect summary: “We have had an experience different than anyone.”

This experience extends beyond financial benefit. Mrs. Field’s proximity to the site, the viewing platform, and Trinity Church has resulted in a clientele of mourners and consumers with reflective dispositions. Mr. Cataldo has held meetings with staff to outline how to deal with customers asking about September 11. Consequently, his staff is well equipped to answer the perpetual stream of questions from September 11 tourists: “Where were you?” “What did it look like?” “Did you know anyone?”

Concurrently, dealing with people has often extended outside the confines of the store and to the sidewalk in front. The wide sidewalk outside of Mrs. Field’s is often crowded with people looking west toward the site and littered with vendors selling World Trade Center and September 11 memorabilia. Mr. Cataldo describes the outside scene as “an issue” and one that has caused problems for both his workers and his customers. In response, Mrs. Field’s employees were taught how to address the “Solemn groups.” Ultimately, Mrs. Field’s is confronted with striking a balance between sensitivity and sensible business.

More than a year after September 11 the fortunes and crowds at the intersection of Fulton and Broadway are dwindling. Access to the World Trade Center site now extends to the perimeter and the viewing platform was removed at the beginning of the summer of 2002. The loss of the viewing platform and the shift of visitors toward the site have caused Mrs. Field’s to see a decline in sales. With the coming of autumn and the end of the tourist season, Mr. Cataldo is concerned about the loss of business, yet remains optimistic, citing “the next few months [September-December] are the busiest of the year with coffee and hot beverage sales traditionally going up and increased spending around gift purchases for the holidays.” He says the Fulton and Broadway store plans to hire more workers and offer seasonal promotions. The first promotion scheduled for the anniversary of the attacks was an offering of free cookies for all.

Copyright Center For Social Research and Education Oct 2002

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