I may have frostbite that requires medical attention, after waiting three hours in the bitter, below-freezing cold last night outside Club Monaco in New York City, and not meeting Mindy Kaling. If it seems completely twisted and ironic that visiting “Club Monaco” ended up being a physically numbing experience, and that I didn’t end up meeting my hero after hours of painful, bone-chilling suffering, it is. But I don’t blame Mindy. It wasn’t her fault. It was partially my own doing for not joining the line before it queued up, but largely I hold the confusing, perhaps misguided, event management by Club Monaco and the Strand responsible.
Two days before the event, Mindy released a photo invitation on various social networks including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, promoting her book signing of “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” on Fifth Avenue. The announcement came on pretty short notice and was somewhat puzzling, considering her book released over two years ago. My theory is that she’s benefiting from the New York Times Bestseller success of fellow writer B.J. Novak’s book, “One More Thing,” and also gearing up to promote the return of “The Mindy Project” on Fox.
The invitation asked for an email RSVP to an employee of Club Monaco, which to my knowledge wasn’t used, and, and when I looked on the Strand’s website for more details, it instructed people to buy a copy of the book, which most of her diehard fans like myself already own, and then get in line in order to meet Mindy. Such was not made clear when I finally joined the line, which wrapped around the corner and spanned the distance between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on 21st Street.
Did I mention it was also extremely gusty that day even though it’s supposed to be spring? Waiting in line, I downed a venti hot chocolate from the well-frequented Starbucks on the block. Normally, I would never drink a beverage of that size, but I honestly required every calorie afforded me to maintain a normal core body temperature over the course of the next three hours.
Given the space constraints of the Club Monaco store at 160 Fifth, even taking into account the connected Strand Annex and Toby’s Estate Coffee, it was clear that the venue was not equipped for a crowd of this size—by my shaky estimate several hundred to a thousand people. I also think that the staff severely underestimated the popularity and allure of Mindy Kaling. I mean, this is Mindy Kaling we’re talking about. Writer of “The Office,” star of “The Mindy Project,” and all-around most down-to-earth, stylish, intelligent celebrity out there. Every girl around my age I know wants to be her best friend. Seriously. Remember when Paris Hilton had a reality TV show called “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF”? “Mindy Kaling’s My New BFF” would crush her show in ratings, I guarantee it. For someone who regularly garners tens of thousands of likes on Instagram, Club Monaco definitely should have been better prepared.
Unfortunately, I never made it inside, so I can’t speak to the efficiency with which books were signed, but I can tell you that the line barely moved. In three hours, I shiver-shuffled maybe half the length of the avenue, and I was right outside the entrance when Club Monaco absolutely stopped letting people in. There were still hundreds of downcast, freezing people behind me at that point.
Unlike my experience at the B.J. Novak book signing at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square, this one was downright awful. At Barnes & Noble, there’s an actual event space with an experienced staff that guides you through the entire meet-and-greet process. Sure, the moments are more manufactured and brief, but you get in and you get out. You get your book signed, personalized even, and they take a souvenir photo of you with the author with whatever phone or camera you have. Oh yes, and you’re sitting inside and get to be warm the whole time.
After a few hours, echoes that the Club Monaco staff was trying to cut off the crowd fluttered down the line, and everyone in it panicked and prayed that Mindy would stay longer than the hour and a half allotted for the signing. She graciously did, but it wasn’t enough to accommodate the fans, including me, who still stayed, braving the arctic blast and praying for a miracle. Finally, one staff member hesitantly told people in line that they might not make it in and offered them a paltry 20 percent off discount coupon. At that point, I gave up, collected my frigid belongings and left, hugely disappointed.
Now that the feeling has returned to my iced, distressed extremities, the despair has subsided. Overall, I think this event represents a missed marketing opportunity. By the looks of it, Mindy’s signing could have been a great way to introduce us fans, who fall mostly into the 18-34 female demographic, to Club Monaco, but then again, we can barely afford most of the luxury retailers that line Fifth Avenue. Regardless, most of us who didn’t get to meet Mindy and could have one day become high-spending patrons have a sour view of the brand.
Instead of making the signing public, the event staff could have required attendees to actually RSVP by email and later let only some of the people in, based on lottery or first-come, first-serve, for more effective crowd control. They also could have ticketed event because I bet some of us would have paid a premium to meet Mindy instead of having to purchase another copy of a book we already owned. Moreover, they should have cut the line off earlier and more definitively and been clearer about expectations for the event.
I know mine isn’t the only complaint out there. In addition to the hundreds of other crestfallen fans, I’m sure retailers and residents of 21st Street are equally upset that so many rabid females showed up and blocked entrances to every shop, apartment, and parking garage. To them, I’m sincerely sorry, but when it’s that cold and your limbs are barely functioning, it’s all you can do to huddle together with fellow Mindy fans to keep warm and give each other hope, while secretly wishing that everyone before you would succumb to the cold and leave.
Of course I partially blame myself for getting food after work, and even having to work like a normal human being, which I’m sure Mindy can appreciate, but this whole experience has turned me off to the cool, cultural shopping-eating destination that Club Monaco, the Strand Annex, and Toby’s Estate Coffee have tried to achieve. But I’d still definitely try to meet Mindy, maybe. Just when it’s warmer.