NEW YORK — The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has a “great concern.”
It is not about the state of the region’s airports. Or the difficulties of rebuilding the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Or the growing perception that politics has driven the agency’s decision making.
No, what is troublesome is that Fishs Eddy, a well-known housewares store, is “unfairly reaping a benefit from an association with the Port Authority and the attacks” of Sept. 11. How? By selling two lines of goods — “212 New York Skyline” and “Bridge and Tunnel” — that are adorned with fanciful, cartoonish depictions of the twin towers, the new 1 World Trade Center and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, labeled with their names, all of which the agency claims as its own assets.
In a letter to Fishs Eddy dated July 24, Veronica Rodriguez, a lawyer for the authority, asked the store to stop selling anything with these “assets” on them, and to “destroy all materials, documents and other items bearing the assets.”
“Your use of the Port Authority’s assets on dinnerware and other items is of great concern to the Port Authority,” she wrote.
A visit to Fishs Eddy on Monday afternoon found Julie Gaines, the co-owner with her husband, David Lenovitz, in no mood to cease or desist. “Are they going to stop everyone from using the trade center in the skyline?” Gaines asked. “If so, they’d better get going.”
“If they hurt this pattern, they hurt us,” she said about “212,” the most enduringly popular of all the lines sold by the store. The “212” display island, prominently placed between the entrance and the cashier desk, brims with white coffee cups, mugs, vegetable bowls, celery dishes, dinner plates and side plates, each with a black silhouetted skyline around the border. Hand-lettered words float like clouds over city landmarks: “Twin Towers,” “Grand Central Station,” “Brooklyn Bridge,” “Chrysler Building.”
But this is no mere harmless, poignant city scene, in the eyes of the Port Authority, which said the dinnerware would “evoke thoughts of the Port Authority, the twin towers, WTC and the September 11th terrorist attacks.”
Rodriguez wrote that Fishs Eddy ceramic ware “interferes with the Port Authority’s control of its own reputation.”
It is unclear why the authority waited 13 years to rouse itself over the “212” pattern or why it has chosen to go after an established merchant when the city is awash with unauthorized World Trade Center knickknacks. (Holland and Lincoln Tunnel souvenirs, maybe not so much.)
Erica Dumas, a spokeswoman for the authority, said that similar trademark enforcement efforts had been undertaken and that Fishs Eddy was not being singled out. She otherwise deferred to the letter.
Gaines faced a similar challenge to “212” in 1998, when Tishman Speyer Properties and the Travelers Group, owners of the Chrysler Building, demanded that she remove their landmark from the skyline and promptly destroy all remaining inventory.
“How can they say we can’t use the Chrysler Building?” she asked at the time. “We wanted to do a plate that represented New York City. Leaving off the Chrysler Building would be like leaving off the World Trade Center.”