Last week, I finally had the pleasure of visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood. And because I have a deep psychological need to be appropriately dressed for every occasion, it was obviously time to buy a new Harry Potter shirt. So with a bit of a sigh, my friend Jenny and I set off for what has become a tradition for us: braving Hot Topic in search of something to feed our pop culture addiction, while simultaneously grumbling at a low level about how we wish we didn’t have to go to Hot Topic. I am, after all, an old woman at 30, and the lighting in there is too low for my bad eyes, and I can’t always navigate my clumsy self around the narrow aisles.
Yes, I’m being facetious, clearly, but the truth is, Hot Topic does tend to make those of us who aren’t aged 15 to 25 feel a bit out of place. Luckily, the clever folks at Hot Topic’s parent company recognized the opportunity to serve a different demographic (i.e. those of us who were actually teens when Harry Potter came out, and our parents who may have even read them with us). Not only did they open a new line of stores, but they took it as an opportunity to do something very philanthropic. Thus, BoxLunch was born.
Jenny and I came across the new BoxLunch at Fashion Fair Mall in Fresno when we were on our way to Hot Topic. (I know it’s impossible to explain where things are at the mall, but BoxLunch is sort of across the way from Teavana.) I caught sight of some Harry Potter shirts through a brightly lit window and was instantly drawn to the store like a moth to a flame. Of course, I chuckled a bit when I found out that BoxLunch was actually a sister store to Hot Topic. But after talking to the folks at BoxLunch, I am seriously impressed with what they have done.
“For whatever reason, Hot Topic, – good, bad or indifferent – has this stigma that ‘that’s the goth store,’ or ‘that’s the kid store” or ‘I can’t go in there, the music’s too loud,’ ” said BoxLunch Vice President & General Merchandise Manager Robert Thomsen.
The basic premise is this: BoxLunch is a pop culture store for grown-ups. It’s well-lit, it’s a bigger store and it has merchandise that appeals to a slightly older crowd, such as better-quality clothing, gear for their kids, high-end collectibles and pop culture-branded household items.
On top of that, here’s the charitable component: BoxLunch’s tagline is “Get some, give back.” For every $10 you spend in the store, BoxLunch will donate a meal to a local food bank associated with Feeding America. In our case, that means that BoxLunch will donate a meal to the Valley’s Community Food Bank for every $10 spent at the Fresno store. This localization is so important to BoxLunch that they even donate a meal for every $10 of sales on their website to a food bank in Tennessee, where their distribution center is based.
“We kind of incorporated it into our culture and who we are,” Robert said. “We wanted to do something where we could make a regional impact.”
What does it mean when BoxLunch donates a meal? Feeding America has a formula – taking into account nutritional value – of what constitutes a meal, and the cost of getting that meal to a food bank. BoxLunch then donates the cost of a meal for every $10 spent. BoxLunch also provide an option where you can round up your purchase to the nearest dollar and donate that excess money to the food bank.
As for the actual store itself? The merchandise you can find there is straight up awesome. In addition to the aforementioned Harry Potter gear, there’s Star Wars (you can literally buy R2-D2 as a teapot, a popcorn maker or a freaking suitcase), Star Trek, and yes, there’s Pokemon. There’s also nostalgic items from Friends, The Princess Bride and Disney. Lots and lots of Disney. It’s a great place to shop for yourself, but also to find unique gifts.
“We felt that the pop culture enthusiast didn’t end at 25,” Robert said. “We have that 30-something person who … grew up with Ariel. … Little Mermaid was their princess and now they have kids, and they’re coming into our stores and they’re buying the adult Mermaid t-shirt, and they’re buying a trinket for their daughter.
This formula of charitable shopping is working for BoxLunch. The first store has been open for less than a year, and the chain is already up to 23 shops across the country. Robert estimates that they will have 50 stores open by the end of the year. Originally, BoxLunch had committed to donating 1.5 million meals in their first year, but they’re going to be on pace to donate 3 million meals (just based mostly on the sales from the first 10 to 15 stores).
And since you can’t always shop local (unless someone wants to go into the pop culture retail business with me), in this case it’s nice to know that your dollars will go towards a great local cause. So the next time you’re in desperate need of that new Doctor Who pillow or Ron Swanson t-shirt (I’m not making fun of you – these are legitimate desires), be sure to check out BoxLunch at Fashion Fair Mall!
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