Walk into Scumbags and Superstars and you might feel like you’re on the old St Marks Place (the one that still counted the Sock Man on the scene). Here you’ll find vests covered in monster patches, hats that say “Eat shit and die,” and plenty of dudes dressed in black hoodies ogling the wares.
We thought these kind of shops were on the way out, but George Rosa, the owner, is hoping to carry on the torch with original pieces that tap into a timeless rock feel, mixing nostalgia with the new designs he dreams up with other independent artists.
Rosa isn’t coming from the East Village though. He actually moved from Bushwick, where he’d been selling “weirdo monster” stuff for two years– the kind of one-of-a-kind products designed to generate a cult audience from skaters, wannabe punks and motorcycle dudes.
“A lot of the concepts of the designs are from old B-movies of the ’50s or ’60s or old comic books or old weird references that some people might know– but the visual is more important,” Rosa said. “Some teens come in here, but it’s more like 20s, 30s, even 40s – a lot of people who are into the old references and appreciate that we are still using stuff they remember and grew up on.”
We were curious that Scumbags was so quick to leave Bushwick’s growing artist community (Rosa began as an artist before deciding his interests were better suited to making products), but he said it was a good business move to leave the fast-gentrifying neighborhood behind. “Its almost high end– or trying to be,” he said of Bushwick’s shopping scene. “Everything’s a new coffee shop or new bar, but very pretentious. There’s just these weird things popping up and you’re like, who is this for? Who will pay this money and how much can you sell?”
And for all its hype as a frontier for artists and makers, the rents are rising fast– Rosa said he realized that storefronts were already just as expensive as some parts of the Lower East Side. Combine that with less foot traffic on Bushwick’s largely residential streets (some days barely anyone came in his shop), and it was an easy decision to head across the river, where he said he finds more community.
In the past, we’ve seen concept shops and hipster bars struggle on Clinton because it’s a little out of the way for the average hipster wandering off the subway. But Scumbag’s reasonable range of prices (stickers, keychains and patches cost around $1-$5, while the custom stuff can go as high as $350) could be a nice fit for locals with many different income levels and tastes. “We’re hoping that our shop is just so different– you literally can’t get this stuff anywhere else,” said Rosa. He added that collectible items can drive underground monster-lover excitement and the website can pick up some slack when storefront business is slow
Of course, we had to ask about that logo. A mashup of a Nazi skull and a Native American headdress, it’s been criticized for cultural appropriation and insensitivity.
Rosa, who has built his identity as the perpetual outsider and underdog, said the name Scumbags & Superstars comes from a Talking Heads song and was loosely meant to be a sarcastic comment on American society. He envisioned the logo as a kind of twisted counterpoint to the much-hated Redskins logo– and of course, a strong, sellable graphic image that many people would like just for its own sake.
“In America we view the Nazis as scumbags but we did the same thing to Native Americans– and not only that, we used the goddamn image as a logo on sports team!” he said. “Who are scumbags, who are superstars and at what point are the lines blurred?”
He continued: “A lot of stuff we do here, it’s not lighthearted– it’s supposed to be sarcastic. We are not shedding light on the situation. We are, if anything, making fun of a fucked up situation.” Spoken like a true jaded, old-school New Yorker.
Scumbags & Superstars, 100 Clinton Street, b/t Delancey and Rivington. Open 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.