d.e.m.o., And The Death Of Office-Park Corporate Hip-hop StyleS

A little piece of news hit me hard on this first day after the first victorious battle in the long march toward electing a first black president: Pacific Sunwear is closing its beloved mall chain d.e.m.o. For those of you unfamiliar with d.e.m.o., it was a chain opened by the multibillion dollar empire of "California-inspired" surf-skate wear, Pacific Sunwear. The way the executives of PacSun explained it to me back when I wrote about shopping for a living, about ten years ago the company was sifting through focus group data on their target 12-24-year-old suburban demographic, when they hit upon an interesting phenomenon: there was a whole group of suburban kids who would never wear Quiksilver board shorts: the kids that listened to hip-hop music. Turned out there were "Two Americas" or something! And a lightbulb went off: why not start a chain directed at the America that preferred its sneakers to look clean?

They called it "d.e.m.o." — a name "meant to evoke 'demolition,' 'demonstration' and 'demo tapes,'" company president Tim Harmon told the Orange County Register in 1998 — and stocked it with velour tracksuits and outsized medallions and Rocawear tracksuits, Apple bottom jeans and really tasteful miscellaneous rhinestone jewelry.

But something was changing, slowly but also sort of fastly, about suburban youth culture.

Skater boys began collecting sneakers. Hip-hop boys learned to skateboard. Skater girls discovered rhinestone-studded acrylic nails. Hip-hop girls discovered the Beatles. Large corporations lost their hold on the music the kids heard, the music that had previously divided them. Japanese guys started turning up out of nowhere, setting crazy new colorful — color-blind — trends.

Paul Wall also happened. I just wanted to point that out.

d.e.m.o., And The Death Of Office-Park Corporate Hip-hop StyleS

And the big corporate peddlers of pop culture were challenged. Challenged to think of America's teenagers not as rapper thugs or skater punks or emo/goths — goth mecca Hot Topic is suffering a similar fate as d.e.m.o. — but as individual, openminded, humanesque customers who exercise Equal Opportunity on all their possible consumer choices.

Including their next president!

Pacific Sunwear To Close Remaining d.e.m.o. Stores [Reuters]