Long before rainbow-maned unicorn floats showed up at Target and “Love is Love” shirts hit Macy’s, Jim Connelly’s shop in Loring Park was one of the go-to sources around the Twin Cities for all things pride-related.
It still is. The Rainbow Road, a gay gift shop, has already sold hundreds of rainbow flags this month, reordering them three times since the June 12 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
In the weeks leading up to this weekend’s Twin Cities Pride festivities, his business has been busier than ever. The increase comes despite the uptick in mass retailers that over the years have started to hawk rainbow-themed merchandise during the month of June — not just Target and Macy’s, but also Old Navy, Hot Topic and Spencer’s. While some might be cynical about big corporations trying to make a buck on pride celebrations, Connelly is encouraged by it.
“It’s about time,” he said. “Does it hurt my business? I don’t believe so, because my figures show otherwise. It lets everybody know that it’s just there, it’s OK. It’s not going away. And it just brings people further together when they can see a rainbow at Macy’s or whatever store.”
It makes business sense, too. Companies, he said, must see that there’s a growing market and demand for these products.
The prominent rainbow-splashed #takepride displays inside of select Target stores have been turning heads, leading to some emotional responses by some customers.
“As a gay guy born and raised in Texas I would have never imagined seeing this inside a Target,” a Reddit member recently wrote on the online site. “It made me weep. I’ve never seen a store do this in my 26 years.”
The post received more than 2,600 comments. Some who responded wondered if Target was trying to capitalize on the Orlando shootings. But others quickly came to the retailer’s defense, noting that the Minneapolis-based retailer has had a strong track record of supporting LGBT issues and has been selling pride merchandise for several years.
In fact, this is the fifth year Target has sold pride merchandise. The first two years, the items were available only online. This year, they were sold in about 100 of Target’s 1,800 stores, mostly in urban areas where there are big pride celebrations such as San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Miami, and Seattle. The displays with items such as rainbow-patterned swim trunks and suspenders, as well as a wide assortment of shirts, are in about 10 stores around the Twin Cities.
Perez Hilton, the prominent blogger and purveyor of celebrity gossip, took notice of a pride display in his local Target store, taking a picture of it earlier this week and tweeting, “Thank you, @Target, for putting this in your stores! The homophobes can’t handle our shine!”
While Target’s announcement in April that transgender people can use the bathroom of their choice led to an avalanche of backlash from conservative groups, the pride merchandise displays have been decidedly less controversial.
If anything, people from around the country have been tweeting in frustration because their local stores don’t carry the merchandise. There’s no word yet on whether Target might expand them to more stores next year.
“It’s certainly something we will evaluate based on guest feedback, but we haven’t announced any changes,” said Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman.
At 70 of its 700 stores around the country, Macy’s has put up prominent “pride + joy” displays this month, complete with a list of the dates of pride celebrations in major cities. The retailer has been carrying pride merchandise for about a decade, rolling it out in more stores over the years.
“We’ve been selling them every year now consistently,” said Andrea Schwartz, a Macy’s spokeswoman. “There is definitely a need for it.”
In downtown Minneapolis, adult store Lickety Split also has seen a steady increase in sales in recent years of its pride-related merchandise, said store manager Olivia Munsell. Its rainbow-themed bustles, similar to a tutu, have been especially popular this year. But it also has a wide assortment of everything from underwear and pasties to shot glasses.
Munsell has seen more straight people coming in to buy pride merchandise, too. But she’s not worried about competing with major retailers.
“We carry different kinds of merchandise,” she said.
Twin Cities Pride also sells shirts and pins at its festival in Loring Park and at related events throughout the weekend. It often sells out of some styles. Last year, its #lovewins shirt was one of the sellouts.
Dot Belstler, executive director of Twin Cities Pride, said sales from merchandise — which help fund the annual festival — continue to grow every year.
“If somebody who doesn’t come to Pride can get a pride-related shirt at Target — awesome,” she said. “I think it’s really important, especially for people who are just coming out or maybe they’re from a small town or in an area that is not as supportive.”
Pride merchandise can also be found all over the internet.
“My mom wanted a rainbow flag,” Belstler said. “I got her one on Amazon.”
When Connelly first opened Rainbow Road in 1996, about a quarter of his merchandise was rainbow-themed. He had rainbow-patterned candles, greeting cards, calendars — you name it. Over the years, as LGBT rights have progressed, he’s found less interest in the rainbow as a symbol for his customers year-round.
“Gay has become more mainstream,” he said. “So we started switching to other product that wasn’t as much about the rainbow.”
That’s one of the reasons he thinks his shop is still around while some others around the country whose businesses were built around pride celebrations haven’t made it. His sales are up about 20 percent this year, not just because of rainbow-themed items but also because of the underwear, swimwear and other activewear he sells.
Still, June is his busiest month of the year, tied with December with its holiday shopping.
When July rolls around, he also knows that much of the merchandise will disappear from the aisles of mass retailers.
But he’ll still have it.
“They put it out for a month, and it’s gone,” he said. “It’s something that happens every day here.”