This COVID-19 pop-up shop is a new level of pandemic grift


My last job was working as a customer service rep for this ticketing company — think Ticketmaster, but for gaudy, Instagrammable pop-up exhibits and shops. It was irredeemably bad, and I’m lucky to have left when I did. When the pandemic hit, its clients were ravaged, and I figured most of their pastel excess wouldn’t survive on the other side of this. Unless....maybe they just go the route of pandemic-themed storefronts. Unrelated to that unnamed company, there’s now a COVID-19 pop-up boutique at three malls in New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

Dubbed COVID-19, Inc., the store sells a variety of designer masks, ranging in price from $14.99 to $130. The higher tier includes red masks adorned with dozens of spikes, a Fallout-grade gas mask, and one with a built-in rechargeable fan. According to a recent report from Philadelphia Magazine, you’ll also find any number of pandemic-friendly accessories, including lavender-scented mask spray, and confusingly shaped keychains to open door handles and punch digits on public keypads without using your hands. It’s a lot.

As the store’s owner Erik Markowitz tells it, this is designed to be as temporary as possible...despite opening three Mid-Atlantic locations. “I didn’t intend to grow the business,” Markowitz said in an interview with New Jersey Herald. “I wanted to see how it would go. I let it flow, and it’s flowing. Wherever it takes me, I’ll go. And I really feel like the sooner I go out of business, the better it will be for everybody.”

Pandemic streetwear and high fashion face masks were always going to be inevitable, and will likely persist in the new normal for as long as mask-wearing is embedded in society. That said, it’s still headspinningly craven for a shop to predicate its existence on fighting the pandemic, while taking up space in a shopping mall that draws inessential traffic to workers and other customers. The dissonance isn’t a new phenomenon, after every company spent the pandemic’s early months reminding Americans some variation of: we’re here for don’t forget to buy a Lexus.

Much like grifters whose success is largely predicated on Trump being president, with no clear path forward once he’s gone, of course the pandemic profiteers also want this thing to wrap up sooner rather than later. But conceding that the latter outcome is infinitely more likely, they’ll squeeze every last dollar out while they can.