No hoodies! Philly guy sells signs that ban the sweatshirt from businesses
Store owners, concerned about people using hoodies to help hide their identities, are posting signs asking people not to wear them.
ON THE DOORS of some corner stores in certain Philly neighborhoods, you'll notice bright red signs announcing "DO NOT ENTER WITH HOODIE OR MASK."
In smaller letters, the signs say, "IF SO, YOU ARE NOW TRESPASSING."
They're the brainchild of a Mount Airy-based businessman who started to sell them two years ago to help stem the tide of holdups inside bodegas and other businesses.
I'm all for anything to make streets safer. But the fact that the signs specifically target the ubiquitous hooded sweatshirt doesn't sit well with many, especially those concerned that it unfairly targets young African-American men.
Two years ago, hoodies became a national symbol of solidarity after unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by a self-appointed neighborhood vigilante while wearing one. But Joe Stark, who's black, rightly maintains that a sign that reminds would-be customers to remove their hoods isn't racist.
"How could that be? White people wear hoods. Hispanics wear hoods. Black people wear hoods," he told me last week. "This is something I felt was necessary and something I felt should have been done a long time ago."
Stark, who has dabbled in a variety of money-making pursuits over the years, got the idea for the controversial signs while watching the news.
"I just kept seeing the same thing. The same patterns. Just robberies. Not being able to identify the person . . . the guy would have a hood on or a mask," he said.
So, in the fall of of 2012, Stark got a graphic artist to design the sign. Stark printed up 10 and took them around to local stores on a test run. Priced at just $10, they sold quickly. Stark printed up an additional 200 signs.
Fast forward to 2014: Stark now has two workers to help with door-to-door sales. Last week, his operation was in New York City.
The internet took notice. DNAinfo.com was the first to note the signs popping up in businesses in Harlem. Since then, news outlets such as New York magazine, Philadelphia magazine and a number of TV news stations have blogged about the signs. Stark estimates that he has sold a couple thousand.
"A lot of times, as soon as I would show them to them, they would buy them," Stark pointed out. "It doesn't cost much and it's something you need."
Especially since common courtesies such as taking your hat off inside have gone the way of silk stockings.
"When people see the signs, they actually pull their hoods back," Stark said.
Yesterday morning, I watched a slightly built guy with a gray hoodie obscuring his face dash right past a no-hoodie sign and into the 8 Brothers Food Market & Deli at 18th and Dickinson streets in South Philadelphia.
I moved down the street a bit and noticed another business with the sign prominently displayed on the door. When I went inside, I noticed a counter worker with a dark hoodie pulled up over his head. When I pointed out the sign to him, he sheepishly pulled it off. As I stood there, a customer waiting in line for food told me that her 13-year-old nephew has informed her that, "You're not cool if you don't have your hoodie on."
Freida English, who lives nearby, is glad that businesses have posted the signs.
"It's a good idea," she said. "I notice that all of these little stores got that in their windows."
But there's a line between being cautious - and profiling customers based on their clothing choices.
That's what troubles Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at the Penn School of Social Work and a trustee of the Philadelphia Prison System.
"When I heard about it, it reminded me of that sign that was down at Geno's," he said referring to the infamous sign that read, "This is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING SPEAK ENGLISH."
"I have a problem with the signs," Lassiter said. "I think they are extremely offensive. However, [I agree] there needs to be a message that we don't want hoodies worn inside. . . . Young people need to know that you don't go into any building with a hood on or a mask.
"But I don't think we need a sign," Lassiter added. "Signs can be inflammatory."