Walking down East 20th street in the Gramercy neighborhood of New York City, you may pass a tile shop or two, a delicious Thai restaurant, and starting Tuesday, a pop-up shop dedicated to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The "Peacemaker" store and brand is the brainchild of Julius Kacinskis, an American-born New Jersey resident who traces his roots back to Russia and Lithuania. He peddles T-shirts for $25 a pop and launched his collection Tuesday at 10 a.m., right in sync with Putin's 62nd birthday. By 2:30 p.m., Kacinskis had sold some 35 shirts, $875 worth.
The entrance to the store is flanked with two burly security guards, hired by Kacinskis in case his pro-Putin shop caused a disturbance among passersby. I slipped into the shop as a guard wandered down the sidewalk and found myself alone in the store, a native Ukrainian standing in a sea of Putin paraphernalia, walls lined with images of white doves. Soon, Kacinskis entered and introduced himself. I identified myself quickly as both a reporter and a western Ukrainian, and, unable to restrain myself, blurted out, "Is this serious?"
As it turns out, Peacemaker as both a concept and a pop-up are quite serious to the polite Kacinskis. He wanted to counter the West's perception of Putin. "You can look at it from two sides of the coin," he explained. Unassured, I insisted on finding out how the store was funded—was it linked to the Kremlin, or an oligarch?—only to find that Kacinskis created and funded the company himself, and produced the several thousand T-shirts he was trying to peddle on his own dime.