retro brands: a yen for the past to dollars now

A recent Wall Street Journal report looks at a not entirely new attempt at reviving old brands. Titled "Old brands get a second shot" the article starts off by suggesting that the "difficult economy is prompting many entrepreneurs to try to revive old brands from the dead—or the near-dead" while quickly noting that the "problem is that tastes have changed in the meantime". The Journal cites the case of a Pennsylvania entrepreneur who "invested $1 million of his personal savings and a government-backed small-business loan in his bid to revive the old Seafood Shanty chain."

While it is still early to pronounce the venturesome restaurateur's  outlet a success others in a variety of industries are seeking to emulate him. These range from the now moribund (for the second time) airline PanAm  to hotel group Valencia which recently embarked on a revival with the Lone Star Court, a motor court concept from the 40's.  A similar yearning for nostalgia has induced the estate of Ernest Hemingway to launch a chain of hotels and resorts in locales that are "of legendary reputation". The estate already has a line of footwear and home furnishingsHyatt hotels too has dusted off of an old brand and  renamed their extended-stay brand Summerfield Hyatt as Hyatt House.

Others include the somewhat immodestly named "Boast" shirts originally launched in 1972 by All-American squash and tennis player Bill St. John who sold the trademark rights for the logo to a duo whose first line of 8000 shirts were sold in a New York minute.

However, notable exceptions like VW's Beetle car apart, history has unfortunately not been particularly kind to brands seeking to be latter day phoenixes. PanAm remains firmly on the ground albeit with a  virtual presence urging visitors,  without any apparent irony, to embark on an "adventure, and the thrill of the journey – no matter what your mode of travel" while touting their "vintage and contemporary bags, luggage, apparel and accessories and to "explore, discover, and let the world be your runway."

The inventor of Boast was modest enough in suggesting that "having fans of the past isn't enough. There are all those youngsters out there now [who] need to be turned on to it."  Perhaps what is really needed is a revived economy that will make the need for brand revivals less of an imperative.



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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.