Tales From The Cupcake Wars: Crumbs Bake Shop Goes Dark In Rittenhouse

Remember what a big deal it was when Crumbs Bake Shop came to town? We reported on the announcement, tracked the location in Rittenhouse Square and it even made the news when their awning went up. Cupcake aficionados were honestly excited about this publicly-traded, bi-coastal operation coming to Philly.

Well, now the Rittenhouse location is closed. It lasted just over a year in its space, and such a rapid departure for a proven operation like Crumbs has us thinking: Does this closure say something about us as a city?

Yeah, it does. And after much discussion, it comes down to one or two things.

1) The closure of Crumbs marks the turning point in the war against the cupcake

Cupcakes are stupid. Even the best of them (and, really, there aren’t that many really good ones out there) are just a tease–a couple bites of cake (often too dry) and a couple bites of frosting (often too sweet and piled WAY too high) that rarely (if ever) satisfied the longing for something sweet. If it was a bad cupcake, a couple bites was too much. If it was one of the rare good ones, a couple bites wasn’t enough.

But what was worse was the whole zeitgeist that grew up around the goddamn cupcake. For a time, it was a fad. It seemed like every suburban mom with too much time and disposable income, every burnt-out professional capable of sifting flour, every hack baker who couldn’t cut it in a proper pastry department was scouting spaces in their neighborhood and opening these terrible, doomed cupcake shops. Cupcakes were all over TV. There were a thousand cookbooks written about them. The press (trend-humpers that we are) pounced on the cupcake like it was the biggest news EVER and burned hundreds of thousands of words writing about the one shop in ten (or thirty or fifty) that was actually able to make a go of it just because their cupcakes were not wholly and completely disgusting lumps of overcooked cake topped with a six-inch-thick crown of automatic diabetes.

And that’s fine. Trends are trends and the best thing about them is that, sooner or later, the excitement dies down and they just go away. But the cupcake? The goddamn cupcake hung on forEVER.

Cupcakes hung around as a thing for so long that it became cool to hate them. Then cool to hate the people who hated them. Then uncool to mention at all. Then cool all over again, in a retro, oh-that-is-so-six-months-ago kind of way. When Crumbs announced it was coming to Philly in 2012, it was as part of a 200-store national expansion, which meant the formerly New-York-and-L.A. shop was going to have to open locations in places like Omaha and Albuquerque just to fill the map.

But now, it is done. 14 months in Rittenhouse Square–which should have been an ideal location–and the place just packed it in and died. I want very badly to think that this is it: That December 2012 was some kind of high water mark for the cupcake invasion, that it crested and began to roll back, and that now the tide of bad taste has receded enough that even heavily-backed and corporatized operations like Crumbs are in full retreat.

Is this the end of the cupcake? No. The war will drag on, as wars are wont to do. But a victory is a victory and I’ll cheer this one loudly from the trenches as I hope like hell that the space isn’t just taken up tomorrow by some new place selling nothing but chocolate-covered bacon, cronuts and Korean tacos.

2) The closure of Crumbs means that Philly is getting (gasp) healthier

Now wait a minute and let me explain. If it was just Crumbs closing, I wouldn’t go so far as to link it to any tectonic shift in the Philadelphian psyche. But it isn’t just Crumbs.

Think about this. You know what else closed not too long ago in Center City? A Krispy Kreme donut shop. And Krispy Kremes almost never close. I mean, they’re selling sweet dough, deep fried and coated in liquid sugar, which is just about as close to selling crack as you can get without breaking the law.

What’s more, on any day of the week, you could walk down 18th Street and see lines snaking out the door at HipCityVeg while, just down the street at Crumbs, there was…nobody. And while yes, other Crumbs shops in the ‘burbs are still surviving, could it possibly be that the lunch and after-work crowds in Center City have just decided that spending four bucks on a wad of frosted cake is no longer a suitable lunch when, for $8.50, you can pick up a seriously good arugula taco salad instead?

I don’t know if one can judge the edible temper of an entire city by these few data points. And I’m not sure if one should. But there is certainly a feeling that things are changing in Philly. And that maybe, in this brave new world of wiser and healthier consumers, there’s just no room anymore for cupcakes.

Although, not for nothing, but I could really go for an Original Glazed right about now.

Crumbs Bake Shop [f8b8z]