Maybe it’s a one-stop shop for fans of urban graphic design. Maybe it’s a wish for something more. Either way, the swag is something to see.
The D.C. area’s most rabid Metro fans must’ve all been too busy enjoying public transit to show up for the start of WMATA’s Metro Store grand opening on Wednesday morning. Or maybe, like Metrorail service, they’re arriving (fashionably) late.
The party inside the Metro Center station started just after rush hour, with DJs, a photo booth, a go-go drummer, and tables lined with Metro-themed swag. It was hard not to hear the commotion inside the station, and tens of curious riders eventually made their way to see what was happening. The Metro Store shares its space with Metro’s customer service center; most people who came through early just had issues with their SmarTrip cards.
At its finest, the Metro Store is a one-stop shop for fans of urban graphic design. After all, the most compelling items in the store are modeled after either Metro’s graphics and signage, designed by Massimo Vignelli, or its map, designed by Lance Wyman. One Metro Store customer, Barbara, picked up examples of both. “I bought a pair of sweatpants with all the circles for my daughter, and an umbrella with the map,” she says. (Her daughter will wear Vignelli's colors to soccer and softball practice, she figures.)
Maybe the Metro Store is a kind of pledge for Back2Good, WMATA’s campaign to win back customers. The Rush-Hour Promise—a refund for any trip delayed by more than 15 minutes—is a Back2Good initiative to set and meet baseline expectations for decent service. If Metro can keep its promises, then pride in the system and its many underlying strengths ought to follow. That’s one way to think of the store.
Then again, maybe it’s more of the same. “What I wanted was the stress reliever, but they don’t have it,” says one grand-opening customer, Arielle. “Which is so appropriately Metro.”
Here’s the Metro merch that really spoke to CityLab writers:
Foggy Bottom yoga pants
Athleisure is all the rage, and with the urban fitness boom, it’s not going anywhere. So why wouldn’t WMATA get in the game? Apple Bottoms are so early 2000s, so trade them in for these “Foggy Bottom” yoga pants, named for every D.C. newcomer’s favorite metro stop. The pants are “stretchy,” according to the catalog, which makes them great for breaking into a child’s pose when the train is holding for schedule adjustments. They’re also “light,” so they won’t weigh you down as you run for the train and slip through those closing doors. All in all, they exhibit “great performance no matter the activity”—not something we can say about the system itself, but hey, WMATA can’t be good at everything.
Station area maps
A gem of sophistication in this catalog, riders can now show some neighborhood pride though an in-station innovation that dates back to the system’s beginnings. Lance Wyman first created station area maps with concentric circles for Mexico City’s subway system in the late 1960s before being asked to do the same for D.C. Before smartphones, these served as the most helpful way for a straphanger to figure out exactly where they were and what they’d find aboveground before leaving the station. Today, they’ll do well in your living room as you argue with guests over how to maximize bus service efficiency or whatever.
“I Love Metro...” stickers
You don’t often hear locals raving about their love of this beleaguered system, so we have to applaud Metro for the semblance of self-awareness in this “I love Metro … sometimes” sticker. That’s a statement we can get behind, because Metro really can be great, when everything’s running smoothly. It’s a brave move, really—almost as brave as naming its improvement campaign “Back2Good.”
Metro stress reliever
Admit it: There’s nothing a transit agency can do to pacify the blinding rage you feel when your commute goes all wrong. If you’re lucky, there might be a stoic press release acknowledging that yes, actually, there was a service disruption, maybe you noticed. But subtlety is a divine art, and this train-shaped stress reliever is a hint that WMATA's masterpiece is the tapestry of emotions it weaves across the city. For $6.95 you can park this “nifty squeezable replica Metrocar” on your desk, perfect for helping you unwind from a morning of residual delays. Buy a second one for home and know that you can smash, throw, and stomp the object of your ire as soon as you finish your evening commute. This item is not a toy.
Magnets, and long magnets
We all know the feeling. That special sense of dread when you discover that your new magnet, intended for a four-inch slot on your refrigerator, is only three inches long. Thinking about the resulting gap makes me tremble with anxiety, so I was so stoked to learn that the new Metro gift shop is not only selling magnets, but also long magnets.
While most “magnets” in this shop are about three inches square, “long magnets” run at 4.5 by 1.5 inches. Any magnet aficionado will tell you these two magnet shapes simply are not the same thing. If you’re in the market for a long magnet, I recommend this one, which says, “The Red Line is part of my family.”
Use it to affix a photo of your parents, who would surely remind you that if you only woke up earlier, you wouldn’t be late so often anyway.
Pink Line T-shirt
As the saying goes, dress for the metro you want, not the metro you have. Now, you can take that advice to heart with this cherry blossom-inspired Pink Line tee, celebrating a line that doesn’t exist, but maybe should? I’m personally pumped to do my civic duty, but it does seem like WMATA could have chosen any number of other seasonal weather phenomena to brand aspirationally. How about a wispy Gray Line (not to be confused with the Silver Line) to commemorate the March Windmageddon of 2018? Or a Black Line to represent the color of all your eye makeup sweating off in August?
Wake up and smell the coffee, people! Umbrellas—even ones with a cute map—are a scam. They give you a semblance of control in an increasingly chaotic world. But guess what? They don’t work. Nothing does.
Here me out, urbanists. Umbrellas are anti-walkability, if you define walkability as the ability to walk from point A to point B without being poked in the eye. And have you used an umbrella on a windy, rainy day? 100 percent chance of wetness.
But yes, I’d buy this Metro-map umbrella for my favorite D.C. frenemy, if only to signal that they are as morally corrupt and functionally useless as the flimsy-canopy-on-a-stick they hold in their hands.
And one thing we’d like to see: A Metro station waffle iron
Honor Harry Weese’s legacy by making beautiful arched waffles that look like the ceilings in his underground stations. Lay strips of bacon underneath like they’re trains. Make your eggs the station platform. Pretend each speck of ground pepper is a commuter. Lose yourself in this fantasy. Just never, ever pour white paint on the final product.