Friday, May 8, 2009

The Cockpit Project, Version 2.0

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #364, May 8, 2009)

The Cockpit Project, the Minneapolis retailer of “luxury leather & latex” goods, has new ownership. Opened in June, 2001, ownership was transferred on March 1, 2009, to a company (Minneapolis Hardware Company, LLC) of which Scott Larson is the CEO.

In addition to new ownership, The Cockpit Project has a new address: 2321 Hennepin Ave. S., not too far away from the store’s previous location. (A grand opening party in the new space was held April 30.) Your humble columnist always thought the store’s previous space had a sleek European atmosphere. The new store is different—ceilings are higher, lighting is more dramatic, music is playing (not too loudly), store fixtures are taller and hold more merchandise, and several video screens are visible from anywhere in the store.

And yet, you still know you’re in The Cockpit Project.

I recently spoke with Larson about the changes going on at The Cockpit Project. He told me he wanted the new space to have an approachable, relaxed, fun vibe that encourages shoppers to take their time and feel comfortable: “We’ve put park benches out in front of the windows, so people can actually mingle, hang out and enjoy the summer. There’s lots of traffic on Hennepin Avenue, lots of people going by on bikes and skateboards, getting stopped at the stoplight and they kinda cruise. My staff loves it.” The dressing rooms resemble jail cells, and Larson says people have come in and had their pictures taken in them.

The new space holds a renewed and expanded merchandise mix with more options. The amount of leather and fetishwear has been expanded, and the new store also carries jeans, t-shirts, and other clothing items. New labels, brands and merchandise lines have been added, including Tom of Finland clothing (check out their zip-up-the-back jeans), OxBallsUSA, Colt, Doc Martens, and a line of underwear called Dirty Fukker. Items that aren’t in the store can be special-ordered and received quickly.

Larson is always on the lookout for new items to add to the store’s offerings. “There’s no limit to where the store could go, but I don’t intend to become a fashion store. So you’re not going to see me carrying Tommy Hilfiger or Polo, unless they get into leather, unless they come up with something really unique and fun that fits the image—then we’ll think about it.”

The Cockpit Project is expanding its own line of signature merchandise, including t-shirts, tank tops and vests, and is creating its own line of watches, jewelry, accessories and sunglasses. A new line of Cockpit Project jocks and underwear will be manufactured in New York. According to Larson, “The manufacturing is done by people with disabilities, namely HIV/AIDS. So it may be a little bit more pricey, but you’ll know the money is going where it needs to go, giving an opportunity to people who need it.”

The store plans to start offering custom work in the form of a three-hour “Build Your Own Harness” program: First, choose from many different styles of straps, rings, snaps, buckles and other hardware. Come back an hour later for a fitting and rough assembly, then come back two hours later and the harness will be ready to go. Major alterations on other merchandise will be handled by Shoe-A-New, conveniently located in the same block of Hennepin Avenue.

Larson was born and raised in Minnesota and is no stranger to retailing, having worked at Dayton’s “many, many years ago.” He has been involved with the leather scene in Houston, Atlanta and San Francisco, working as a bartender, bar manager and restaurant manager.

Does Larson have plans for expanding The Cockpit Project to other locations, perhaps to other cities? Although he didn’t want to say too much about this, he did mention a few expansion possibilities, including Phoenix, San Diego, Chicago and Denver.

One thing Larson has expanded right away is The Cockpit Project’s hours. The store now is open 10 A.M. to 10 P.M. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 P.M. on Sunday. While the store technically is closed on Monday, it offers by-appointment shopping—reserve a time and pay a deposit toward your purchases, and for 90 minutes you will have the complete devotion of The Cockpit Project’s friendly and helpful staff.

PHOTO: Scott Larson, standing in The Cockpit Project’s new store on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis.

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