A Penguin Place History
Way back in October of 1984 Eric Bennett, a young penguin fanatic and recent college grad from Queens N.Y. filled out an application (on a dare) to open a penguin themed pushcart at the recently opened South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. Knowing a good idea when they saw one the Seaport jumped at the opportunity to be the home of Eric’s all – penguin paraphernalia pushcart, and so on March 15th, 1985 Next Stop South Pole opened its doors for the first time. The first item sold at 11:08 that chilly historic morning was a box of penguin band-aids for $1.95 to a woman with blisters on her feet from a pair of ill fitting high heel shoes. More than likely the fact that the band aids had penguins on them was unimportant to the young lady, she just needed some band aids, but first is first and the rest as they say, is penguin retail history. By 1986 Eric had moved his penguin operation from a push cart to a 285 square foot kiosk (pictured above) in the Seaports historic Fulton Market Building, and then a year later NSSP doubled in size to a proper shop in the Seaports new Pier 17 complex (pictured below). A year later a sister Next Stop South Pole shop opened at the Inner Harbor (Harborplace) complex in Baltimore Maryland, and 1987 also marked the launching the Next Stop South Pole’s first All-Penguin Mail Order Catalog.
As the years went on it became apparent to Eric that lots of people either really liked penguins or knew someone who did, and Next Stop South Pole would not be just another fly (even though penguins can’t) by night operation. The penguin inventory grew from a few dozen penguins on the push cart to 300+ different waddlers, and the NSSP catalog went from a black and white copy machine handout to an 8 page color glossy with a mailing list that spanned the world. On the day of NSSP’s 10th anniversary in 1995 Eric took another unprecidented step (waddle) as he self published the first issue of The Penguin Post, an all-penguin news, information and entertainment publication with no particular parameters, that was intended for like minded penguin lovers and collectors like himself. The newsletter would tackle topics as diverse as penguin themed stamp collecting, penguins in advertising, penguins in music, or major, minor and amature sports teams with penguin logos, as well as stories about actual penguins in the natural world. The Penguin Post would eventually publish 22 issues over the next 6 years, garnering over a 1,000 subscribers on every continent (including Antarctica). Sadly, it become a victim of it’s own success, as the Post simply became too big for Eric to continue publishing in a print edition. “As much as I loved writing The Post, the writing part was easy but between the cost of printing, and the time it took for folding, collating, stuffing the envelopes, addressing, stamping, then mailing, and keeping up with subscriptions, it was simply too huge a job for a one man operation. Sadly, in 2002 Eric ceased publication of the Post, but he has vowed to resume publishing the Penguin Post on-line, and if you waddle over the Penguin Post Section of this website, you’ll be happy to see The Penguin Post On-Line.
In 1997 a new era literally began for Next Stop South Pole with the launching of our Penguin Place website. Now with a flipper on the pulse of the burgeoning virtual penguin world, the combination of the positive on-line response with rising rents at the Seaport led Eric to waddle in the direction of going exclusively on-line. The NYC Next Stop South Pole finally closed it doors in June of 1999, and the Baltimore shop followed suit a year later later. Eric then moved his entire penguin rookery to its present day location, a fifth floor 900 square foot loft in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood overlooking the Manhattan Bridge that is affectionately known as “The Igloo”. In 2008 the Penguin Place website was finally revamped, and today Eric is assisted part time by his two daughters Sophie and Rose who also think penguins are cool. On June 1st 2008, Eric, his family and all of Penguin Place waddled 150 north to beautiful Northampton, Mass.