Economic common sense would lead one to believe that if two stores sell the exact same product and are located right next to each other, then one will cannibalize the other. Apparently tacky t-shirts are the exception to this rule: the 90-meter stretch of Carrer de Princesa between Montcada and Pou de la Cadena features five shops selling identical products. Fascinated by this anomaly, especially its occurrence in a crippled economy, I attempted to find out how this quintet of kitsch purveyors can survive. The simple answer is that many tourists get lost en route to the Picasso Museum and become trapped in the web of shirts screen-printed with the lowest of lowbrow humor. But is a black tee with a picture of a fat man using a “peniscope” to see his genitalia below his cartoon girth that popular of an item to support five shops that sell it?
As I talked to the employees of each of shop, my not-so-hard-hitting questions were met with even softer answers. Befuddled by inquiries other than,“Do you have the ‘Save Water Drink Beer’ in an XL?” I decided to query the staff about their top seller, which could reveal how different the shops really are. Perhaps the guide-book-toting tourists have a more refined taste than I give them credit for; could it be that Only BCN is famous for its tops that transform iconic corporate logos into a woman’s spread legs, while their neighbor Sonia Barcelona Regal is renowned for anti-farting tees?
Yet each shop claimed that no single design stood out from the rest, except for ART-BCN who said their best seller was the Spanish Triathlon tee (the one which depicts three mini images subtitled with the words: “eating, drinking, and fucking”).
For a moment, I was convinced that Catalan separatists must be buying these Spanish Marathon shirts in bulk with the hopes of diminishing the general Spanish reputation. This way, the rest of the world will aid in liberating the sophisticated Catalans from the oppression of the Spaniards who are hell-bent on eating, drinking, and fucking their economy. However, I was wrong: it is simply tourists who buy these tees as well.
Even if there was a mafia conspiracy behind the shops, I was curious if the quintet of souvenir shops had a unified sales strategy or perhaps, or if each shop approached their clientele in a different manner.
Most said the tees sell themselves, while the employee of Only BCN said he gets to know his customers to sell them shirts appropriate to their situation (not to be confused with the Jersey Shore-inspired shirts which depict Popeye showing his rock-hard abs while saying “Check out my situation”). “If you’re mad at your girlfriend, you get this one (the ‘Problem Solved’ tee which kicks the girl out of the cartoon box),” he said. “If you hate your wife, the ‘Game Over’ shirt is a good way to let her know.”
And at 5 euros a tee, I suppose these shirts are a more economical approach than couples’ counseling. I appreciated his practical pitch, but it still didn’t justify how offensive many of the shirts were, especially the ones that have replaced “stupid” with “gay” and read “I think he’s gay” with an arrow pointing to the left. However: a week later, I found myself at a party blasting heavy electronic beats that made any form of verbal communication impossible. In the middle of the makeshift dance floor, two guys were passionately making out as if the world was about to end.
I tried talking to my fiancé, but she of course could not hear me over the 300 beats per minute pulsating through our bodies. It was then that I realized an “I think he’s gay” tee would’ve really come in handy.