Consumerism: Austintown and Fitch

Teenagers all over America open up boxes with Fitch t-shirts this time of year, whether their families celebrate Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Roman Christmas, New Year’s Day, or Russian Orthodox Christmas. They may think they have something that’s crazysexycool, or just a shirt that’s acceptable to wear to school, but some of us from Northeast Ohio know the truth.

When I see a Fitch t-shirt, I think Austintown Fitch High School, and I want to shake my head. At first, I thought that the Fitch shirts were some kind of slumming-chic thing, like Pabst Blue Ribbon beer or the Levi’s ads set in Braddock, PA. But I don’t think so. I don’t think the average customer of Abercrombie and Fitch Company (NYSE: ANF) is sophisticated enough to understand the concept.

Austintown is a suburb of Youngstown, Ohio, and it is the kind of place where the claim to fame is that it is not Youngstown. In fairness, Youngstown is pretty bad, so I can see why Austintowners would be proud of that. Austintown has about 31,000 people and a median income of $38,216, less than the national average of $44,512 but positively hoity-toity when compared to Youngstown, with a median income of $24,201. Zillow.com reports that the average house in Austintown is worth $66,700; in Youngstown proper, the average house costs $21,500, and no, I did not forget a zero.

Austintown is fine, but it’s not fancy. I think of good food and petty crime. It’s worth getting off the turnpike to get some mighty fine Wedgewood Pizza. You will probably find my father at Trax Lounge, which does not have a Web site because my father does not use the Internet. If you want to call, though, the number is (330) 799-2249, and the address is 4250 New Road. I recommend the pepper and egg sandwich, and I’ve heard good things about the sufrite, if you like that sort of thing (organ meats are involved); sufrite isn’t exactly preppy, but it might fit the image of Abercrombie and Fitch as the hunting outfitter it once was.

In the olden days, Austintown Fitch High School had a gang known as the Wedgewood Rats, after the shopping center that houses Wedgewood Pizza.  The members were alleged to be the brothers and sons of different Mafia types, and they were bad news. They were fond of breaking and entering, threatening classmates, and putting bombs in school lockers, among other things.

It seems strange that the purveyors of sexy clothes for relatively upmarket teenagers would want to be associated with a relatively downmarket spot. The mystery deepens, because Abercrombie and Fitch is headquartered outside of Columbus, Ohio. Surely someone who works at Abercrombie knows about Austintown? The population of the greater Youngstown area has shrunk faster than a 100% cotton graphic t-shirt in hot water, so former area residents can be found everywhere.  Didn’t someone explain that Fitch’s demographic image is pretty much the opposite of Abercrombie’s? That maybe using the Fitch name without its Abercrombie buddy was not a great idea? Or did the folks at A & F just figure that there weren’t enough of us to matter?

Some of the Fitch t-shirt designs even feature eagles, and the Austintown Fitch mascot is a falcon. Abercrombie and Fitch likes an all-American, red white & blue color scheme, and Austintown Fitch’s colors are red and white. Could it be that some former Youngstowner working at Abercrombie’s headquarters is playing a big prank on the customers?

If you’re wearing your Fitch sweatshirt some day and a nearsighted white woman comes up and asks you if the Rats are still running a prostitution ring in the parking lot during lunch period, you’ll know why. And if you are out looking for clearance-sale bargains in this post-Christmas season, choose shirts that say “Abercrombie” over those that say “Fitch”. Unless, of course, you hang with the hoods and not the preppies.