“I want to teabag the economy,” cries Eitan Hagler as he walks behind the counter at American Pig Brand, the Pacific Beach clothing shop he'll say goodbye to on Sunday, Feb. 22. For the past year, Hagler's line of alternative street wear has filled the store, reflecting his brand's wry take on Americans' excessive lifestyle. Aside from fresh threads, the store is well known as home to Barbie Q, APB's porky greeter, who scampers around the sales floor, squealing, smelling people's shoes and eating anything she encounters. For Hagler, running a successful store has been a constant struggle against the economy—one he can no longer endure.
Hagler conceptualized his clothing line in 1999, and APB debuted at a trade show in August 2001, a month before 9/11. ”That was the end of the really good times,” he recalls. “All we had were basic T-shirts with small prints, and we did $80,000 in sales.” With the success of the first show, Hagler invested more money in branding and presence. “We did three or four more shows but never sold more than at that first one.”
To weather the post-9/11 economy, Hagler took APB online to reach his young, tech-savvy demographic. As the nation recovered, APB's e-commerce business prospered and in 2007, Hagler opened up a brick-and-mortar store north of Pacific Beach's beaten path on the corner of Cass and Law streets. “On a good day, only 12 to 15 people came in,” he says, “but our conversion rate was 40 percent.” APB received positive feedback from the community, and in early 2008, Hagler transplanted his store to the 1400 block of Garnet Avenue in an effort to capitalize on foot traffic.
The move to Garnet coincided with the worsening of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the onset of emergency bank loans. “At the beginning of the summer, I started feeling that something was going on,” Hagler says. Compared with when the store was in the no-man's land of North P.B., 10 times as many people were walking by the Garnet Avenue location and five times as many people were venturing inside. “But only 5 to 10 percent of those people bought anything,” Hagler explains. “People were coming in, but they just weren't letting go of their money.”
Hagler concedes that at a time when consumer confidence is low and people are losing money and jobs, being stylish is the first thing that goes. “As long as you have a T-shirt to cover your body, you're OK. A necessity is a hoodie. A necessity is not an APB hoodie.”
Since the end of the summer, there's been a steady downward trend at APB. “Every month we did better on Cass Street than we're doing here—even in December,” Hagler says. “It's unbelievable. November, which is typically one of the strongest months for retail, was our worst month ever. Period. It was like a bomb went off in here. Nobody was coming in.”
With a suffering business that needs monthly revenue of $6,000 just to break even, Hagler survived off money he made buying and selling a couple of condos. “I sold my last one three years ago, and I put a lot of money in the bank,” he says. “Unfortunately, I put it in the stock market. It was a double-whammy, and cash flow became a really big issue.”
Hagler haggled with his landlord for a break in the rent, but the property owner wasn't willing to budge. “He offered to give us 15 cents off per square foot, which amounts to a 5-percent discount. We were shocked that he wasn't willing to negotiate further.” Of the three other tenants with whom APB shared the property, one, Tiss Boutique, has vacated its suite, and another, Addict, plans to vacate when the lease expires. With the way things are going in P.B., Hagler thinks his landlord is acting foolishly. “I don't think he's going to be able rent this space for a long, long time.”
“I had to stop the bleeding,” he says of his decision to close the store. “I realized that if APB is going to survive, we need to lay low for a bit. It's disappointing, but we have no choice. I can't fight what's happening in the world today.”
The storefront's closing, but APB's virtual doors will stay open. “Online sales are slow as well, but there's comparatively little overhead,” Hagler says. And after seven years working for himself, he now seeks a role in corporate America. “I just interviewed for a job as an information architect with a telecommunications firm in Seattle. It's definitely an Office Space, 9-to-5, cubicles-and-all job, but it's high-paying and utilizes the skills I've learned here.”
Barbie's fate is up in the air, too.
“I definitely want to keep Barbie, but I have to do what's best for her,” Hagler says. “If I get that job in Seattle, I'll have to give her away. We're really sad about that.”
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