Rubber duck impacts local business


By Abbey Reighard / Staff Writer

The 40-foot “Rubber Duck” floating in downtown Pittsburgh has made its splash in more than just the Allegheny River. Since its arrival last month, it seems as though everyone wants a slice of the pie, or in this case, a slice of the duck.

Duck mania has befallen the city of Pittsburgh, spurring many local restaurants and businesses into action since the yellow guest’s arrival on Sept. 27. A number of businesses are offering promotions and selling merchandise that spin off the now-distinctive, 40-foot-high icon.

Florentijn Hofman, a Dutch artist, created the inflatable rubber duck as a work of contemporary art. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust brought the duck to the Steel City, marking its first trip to North America since its birth in 2007, in celebration of the Festival of Firsts. The festival is a production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust that provides people with cultural experiences by bringing artists from around the world to Pittsburgh to display their works.

The Duck is scheduled to remain in Pittsburgh until late this month.

Kim Engbers, a spokeswoman for Hofman, said that Pittsburgh became the first city in North America to host the duck because of efforts made by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Since its arrival, local vendors have featured the duck on products with their own local spin.

Pittsburgh artist Joe Wos created T-shirts, branding the image of a duck floating on a body of water and featuring the phrase “Quack N’at,” which harkens to the Pittsburgh accent. Wos sells the shirts online and at the store for the ToonSeum, a nonprofit cartoon-themed museum located Downtown, where he works as executive director.

A disagreement occurred between Wos and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust regarding the sales of the shirts. The dispute was made public on Wos’ Twitter page and in public statements made by the Trust.

Wos and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust would not comment on the initial dispute, but did refer to the disagreement in statements about a compromise they reached. 

Shaunda Miles, a spokeswoman for the Trust, said that the Trust and Wos reached a compromise concerning the T-shirt sales. According to Miles, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Wos have agreed that all sales and proceeds from the T-shirts will go directly to the Toonseum.

“Both organizations share a common goal of getting people to flock to Pittsburgh’s Cultural District for outstanding arts and entertainment,” Miles said in an email.

Wos said that Miles’ statement “sums it all up.”

“We look forward to focusing on the incredibly favorable attention the Rubber Duck Project is bringing our city,” Miles said. He will continue to sell his duck-inspired T-shirts online and at the ToonSeum store.

Wos is not the only Pittsburgh local changing up his business practices since the duck’s arrival. Several hotels in the Pittsburgh area have been offering discount “quackages,” which include duck-themed prizes and promotions for guests during their stay.

Tom Hemer, director of marketing and sales for the Wyndham Grand Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh, said that the hotel has been offering a “Duck View Quackage” and other promotions since the duck’s arrival and will continue to do so for as long as the duck remains in Pittsburgh.

“As Pittsburghers have been calling them ‘Quackages,’ we picked up on [the phrase], as well,” Hemer said.

The Duck View Quackage includes a window view of Point State Park, which is located in the Downtown neighborhood, two tickets for a Just Ducky tour, which is an ongoing Pittsburgh attraction that features tours through the city on a “duck boat” that ventures through land and water, two duck toys and breakfast for two.

The Quackage rooms run for around $300 per night.

The Holiday Inn Express Waterfront also has offers in light of the duck’s visit to Pittsburgh.

Brock Hunt, the general manager at the Holiday Inn Express Waterfront, said that the hotel is offering deals on rooms while the duck is in Pittsburgh.

“If people call in and mention [the duck], they receive a 20 percent discount,” Hunt said. 

Most rooms at the Holiday Inn Express Waterfront rent for less than $150 a night.

The staff and directors of the Mall at Robinson, located in Robinson Township about 20 minutes from Downtown, are also celebrating the duck’s stay in Pittsburgh with a duck-themed game. 

“We’ll be filling our fountain with floating ducks and our guests will have an opportunity to choose one for a prize,” said Shelley Matheys-Yugar, the fashion and marketing manager at the Mall at Robinson.

The prizes include gift cards, movie passes and a $500 shopping spree at the mall, all in celebration of what the mall dubbed the “Duck Phenomenon.”

Andrew Stephen, an assistant professor in the business school, said that local entrepreneurs have been piggybacking on the duck’s fame, exploiting the piece of art and Pittsburgh residents’ awareness. 

“People who are aware of the duck and like it might find themselves buying a duck T-shirt that they will never wear, but they will do it because they are excited about the duck,” Stephen said. 

This phenomenon occurs through cognition, employing the psychological “bandwagon” approach.

“People are simply primed to think about yellow ducks given the art installation on the river, so when they see other duck-related products, they are more inclined to like them without necessarily knowing why,” Stephen said. 

The rubber duck has also inspired eateries near the city to incorporate duck-themed treats and beverages into their menus.

Vickie Pisowicz, owner of the Grandview Bakery located on Shiloh Street in Mt. Washington, said that the bakery has been whipping up some duck-inspired confections in celebration of the fowl’s stay in Pittsburgh. Pisowicz said that her bakery has also reached “fun success” with “duck-themed cupcakes, cookies and mini cakes.” 

Another local sweet shop creating ducky-inspired treats is Pretzel Crazy. Sheri Powell, owner of Pretzel Crazy, located Downtown, created chocolate-dipped desserts. The treats are chocolate-dipped marshmallows in the shape of a duck and are sold at the shop’s booth sales and the Visit Pittsburgh store.

Primanti Bros., the prominent Pittsburgh restaurant with 16 locations throughout the city and its suburbs and an additional three restaurants in Florida, has also added duck-themed items to its menu.

Amy Smith, a marketing coordinator for Primanti Bros., said that the restaurant has featured an alcoholic beverage called the “Drunk Duck,” for five years now. The concoction is a mixture of Absolut Mandarin, Rum and Blue Curacao and comes with a floating “drunk” yellow rubber ducky.

Upon the arrival of the giant duck, Primanti Bros. has increased the availability of the Drunk Duck to more of its restaurant locations. Primanti’s already sold the drink in ten suburban restaurants, but according to Smith, “swam it out” to locations in South Side and Market Square.

Stephen added that this capitalization of popular events occurs often with sports. 

“For example, I wouldn’t be surprised if preferences for Pirate-related products are up right now, even if they don’t mention the team,” Stephen said.