Route 66 Curiosity | Fading Nostalgia


Sep 15, 2012 Route 66, Roadside Attractions , , 20 Comments

One evening last week, I got a text photo from a friend. Scattered all over her floor were mugs, plates, drinking glasses, bowls, notebooks and other wares adorned with kitschy illustrations of Route 66. My fingers scrambled, I couldn’t write back fast enough. “Wahhhhh?!?!? Where?!!!”

“Target!” she replied.

Ah yes, the new pop-up shops! To those who aren’t aware, this is the second run of short-lived boutiques at the ends of aisles in Target with limited-edition product which reflects a small American business. It’s kinda cool, Corp Target is giving exposure to the little guys. One of the four boutiques featured this fall is based on The Curiosity Shoppe, run by Derek Fagerstrom and Lauren Smith out in San Francisco. You can find all kinds of cute art books and jewelry and knickknacks in the SF store. After being approached by Target the couple decided their 2004 honeymoon would act as their inspiration for the Target pop-up store with the same moniker. While it would appear as though Derek and Lauren’s honeymoon revolved around traveling the Mother Road, they have yet to say as much.

As you quickly scan the designs you’ll find incredibly specific icons of Route 66: Catoosa’s Blue Whale, Arcadia’s Round Barn, Wilmington’s Gemini Giant, Atlanta’s hot-dog wielding Tall Paul, Amarillo’s Caddy Ranch, McLean’s Phillips Station, the Wigwams of Rialto and Holbrook, and even the leaning Britten tower in Groom. The funny thing is: there’s a numbered highway sign connecting all these magical places and it’s not 66. It’s not even 33 or 99…but Route 32. In fact, another Route 66 icon plastered on the oven mitts and notebooks is the Needles 66 Motel sign, only it says Motel 32. And if these weren’t proof enough, the journey that dots the pattern landscape begins and ends with the cities Chicago and Los Angeles, respectively.

Immediately I had to know the story behind this strange situation: to be so literal in translation except for the most important detail had to have an explanation. Did they run into problems with licensing? Or perhaps they wanted to bring focus to the Curiosity Shoppe rather than Route 66. So I emailed the San Francisco store, totally rolling the dice at a response considering the couple is undoubtedly scrambling through fame just days after the shop dropped into Target stores nationwide. To my surprise I did indeed receive a response just a day later. They simply explained that there wasn’t a specific reason behind the 32, just that in conjured a road not yet traveled. To add to that, here’s another reference from an article on the SFGate website:

“…we were thinking about the things that are important to us,” [Lauren] Smith adds. “When we got married, we took a road trip to the Midwest and went to Mount Rushmore and junk shops and bought a bunch of little tchotchkes that tell a story and make us remember that time,” she says. “So we got stuck on this idea of road trips.”

Again, no mention of Route 66. Mount Rushmore does appear in the products’ illustrations, and in fact, sort of acts as the sore thumb to any 66 fan who would glance at these items. This leads me to believe that this collaboration with Target was simply that, a collaboration. The product line merely instills the spirit of the Curiosity Shoppe with its kitschy knickknacks as well as the couple’s road trip to Mount Rushmore, but the Target designers themselves ran with the Route 66 idea. Lauren and Derek’s email referred me to Target’s PR email address if I had any further questions, so I’m curious–no pun intended–if the corp will shed more light on the subject.

I’m going to be straight-up honest. Chris and I were both a little deflated about the lack of 66 reference and our slight bitterness is two-fold. When I received that text photo of the truly adorable illustrations smattered all over equally adorable house and kitchenwares, my gut reaction was a smidge of jealousy. Being a graphic designer myself–and obviously a huge 66 fan–I’ve spent a whole heck of a lot of time thinking about a strikingly similar concept. Chris and I have all to often discussed designing a line of Route 66 souvies specific to each roadside attraction: design that would both highlight and unify the Route’s odd but lovable cast of characters. The only thing holding us back was figuring out a way to go about it without stepping on the toes of any of the attractions that already sell their own themed tchotckes. We wanted to work directly with each owner or caretaker. For example, we recently teamed up with the owner of the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, TX, on updated postcards with a potential for magnets down the road. But take the Blue Whale for instance, while there is no online-presence and it’s open only on Saturdays or so, the classic Route 66 stop does indeed have a gift shop which sells Blue Whale merch. When I spotted the mugs sitting on a Target shelf with the classic icon perfectly illustrated and emblazoned around the sides–not a representation, but a literal translation–I thought to myself: well, they had to have gotten permission right? At least a heads up?

Secondly, I gotta say that at a time when Route 66 is really on the cusp of mainstream exposure amongst younger generations, this whole Route 32 thing is sort of a bummer! It’s not as if the designers of this line [which, side note, is Made in China] imagined up a bunch of attractions or even loosely based them on various sites all over the U.S. Aside from Mount Rushmore, they’re all Route 66 places. And I get a little sad when I think about patrons buying the items because they’re cute and whimsical yet have no idea that these places actually exist, especially if you consider the fact that the product line is obviously marketed toward a young generation, a generation who is quite ironically obsessed with throwback nostalgia (think Instagram, Polaroid, Lomography). Maybe I don’t give young people enough credit though. Maybe they’re all googling “Britten USA tower” as I type.

Again, the fact that Lauren and Derek simply wanted to conjure the idea of a nostalgic road trip is awesome. I mean we get it! We’re right there with them. Secondly, I really do love the design and concept despite all my moaning! It’s beautiful, adorable and a truly perfect representation of Americana. And finally, I definitely give Target credit for showcasing these small business and look forward to the unveiling of more pop-up shops just like this. I guess I just see it as a missed opportunity. Sure a missed opportunity for someone like Chris and myself who would’ve LOVED to do a project like this. But much more importantly a missed opportunity to bring a refreshed Route 66 into the mainstream world of a younger generation.

With that said, you better believe we threw down and bought some of this stuff. I mean how often do you see all the things you adore about Route 66 plastered all over plates and bowls when you’re out buying cat litter and milk? I now get to drink my coffee from a Blue Whale mug in the morning! It’ll have to suffice until Chris and I can make our own Blue Whale mug…with Blue’s blessing of course.


  • Anne M. Slanina
    Sep 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm Reply

    I find the idea of the famous Route 66 icons being used on merchandise and not acknowledging that they ARE on Route 66, but rather a fictitious “Route 32” very offensive. I’d be interested in knowing if these businesses gave their seal of approval for this type of merchandising.

    1. Fading Nostalgia
      Sep 15, 2012 at 11:53 pm Reply

      We’re right there with you Anne. Just wondering what the story is behind the scenes. And like I said, I tried asking the couple who runs the Curiosity Shoppe but they didn’t have much info to offer. I tried researching Target press releases too, but to no avail. Perhaps the PR team will answer my email with a little insight?

  • Mike Dagney
    Sep 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm Reply

    OK, Thought I would chime in on this too. Don’t think my reaction will be too much different from those before me. 1st off, I have to admit this is some very nice merchandise. The design, and the nostalgic looks really catch my eye. However…….What in the heck were they thinking with the whole “Route 32” thing??? Why would they take all of these great Mother Road Icons like the Blue Whale, The leaning water tower in Groom Tx., Wigwam Motel (Which they changed to hotel), and so on, put them on their products, then not use the Iconic Route 66 Logo? Where they afraid that Route 66 was trademarked and just too lazy to do a little research to find out that it in fact is NOT? Do they have something against the road? As hard as I think about it, I cannot come up with one logical answer to that question. Another thing that bothers me is that the products are made in China. However, I think I know the reasoning behind that, wrong or right. Cost/profit. They could get a cheaper product (both cheaper in price and cheaper quality) from China than they could in the U.S. Sad, but true. Since I am not a lawyer, I don’t know if there are any trademark infringements with the above mentioned places that they have depicted on the line. But I would hope that they would have run this by the owners of these places before they included them on the products. With that being said, I am a route 66 roadie, and will retire on the Mother road (or at least within a few miles of it) in about 10 years or so, but I would still purchase these just because they are so damn cool.

    1. Fading Nostalgia
      Sep 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm Reply

      Those are great questions Mike, and I wish I knew the answers! I have corporate retail work experience and know that corp legal teams work diligently to ensure new lines and products don’t infringe on trademarks so I have a feeling they did their research and discovered that these places are in the public domain, especially considering they are only illustrations and not full-fledged imagery. Of course this doesn’t take away from the fact that it isn’t necessarily the best way to conduct business.

      Agreed though, it’s a really great line of product (aside from its production overseas)…perhaps it’ll inspire 66 businesses to take note! Produce some stellar merch and people will buy!

  • Mike Dagney
    Sep 19, 2012 at 6:17 am Reply

    Well Said!

  • Mother Road Revisited
    Sep 19, 2012 at 10:06 am Reply

    I find it hard to believe that they didn’t even realize that all of these attractions are on Route 66. I feel like there is some other issue here, maybe a copyright issue or…some kind of PR issue? If they got the road trip bug, why didn’t they include other things in South Dakota? Such as Wall Drug, which has signs advertising it for hundreds of miles, similar to Meramac Caverns? or any thing else in the midwest, like the giant ball of twine? It seems to me some art director didn’t like the idea of Route 66 being involved, so they threw in some stuff off the route so they wouldn’t have to brand it that way.

  • Retrogirl
    Sep 19, 2012 at 1:51 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for your comments!!!!!I was starting to wonder if anyone else cared about this as much as I do.

    I was sad to see these products in a magazine and in the store also. I wish they would have either used “Route 66” or made up fake places for their “Route 32” idea instead of using the specific icons and reference to “Route 32.” I just couldn’t buy anything. I’d be interested in knowing why they made this decision too.

    I went to three locations on Route 66 in Arizona this summer-Oatman, Seligman and Williams and was delighted after reading about Route 66 for years. I’m ready to take another road trip for more sights. :)

    1. Fading Nostalgia
      Sep 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm Reply

      You’re welcome Lisa, thanks for YOUR comments!! I think I google this issue at least once a day now to see if there are any additional 66 fans out there who have taken issue with this situation. There are some 66 groups on Facebook with a lot of angry people, let me tell you! Most of them are upset about what they think is copyright/trademark/intellectual property infringement…and I believe a lot of us creative types tread a fine line when it comes to infringement. Especially photographers, of which both Chris and I are! We emailed quite a few people for permission to publish photos in our Route 66 Polaroids book…we even blurred out a Walmart sign :) But it was impossible to get permission from every single business, most of which are long gone anyway. When it comes to huge retail corporation mass marketing, that might be a different story. So like I’ve insinuated in this post and in my comments, my take-away is two-fold: 1. I think it’s unfortunate Target used Route 32 and missed the importance of supporting an American icon/small businesses and 2. Perhaps this serves as a wake up call for 66 businesses to produce well designed merch. It’s tough because the best way to keep costs down is to do it yourself. There are lots of freelance designers out there though who are just looking to make some extra money. Maybe even designers who are passionate about something like Route 66 and are willing to cut businesses a bit of a break in order to help support them! Myself included, but of course!

      Anyway, I hope you can get back on the road soon!! Chris’s Route 66 passion started when he explored the suburban area outside of Chicagoland. If all you have time for is to explore 66 in small chunks, that’s just as fun as doing the whole thing…perhaps even more so as you get to take the time to see more. Quality over quantity?

      1. Retrogirl
        Sep 20, 2012 at 10:47 am Reply

        Hi Fading Nostalgia,

        Good comments.

        Yeah I definitely would be interested in some other cute and legitimate Route 66 merchandise and hope that this does encourage people who truly appreciate the history of the Mother Road to create more. (Because of the “Route 32” image, the Target items seem defective to me. Kind of like putting Paris images on a product and listing Berlin, Germany. As cute as some of them are I have to reject them).

        After spending time feeding baby carrots to Burros wandering around the street, I supported the stores in Oatman by buying some Route 66 items.

        I’m glad to hear about all the work you and Chris did for the Route 66 Polaroids book. I’m also very happy that I found your cool website and other people who love Route 66 and other historical/nostalgic places and images. :)


        1. Fading Nostalgia
          Sep 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm Reply

          I totally hear you Lisa. Since purchasing the products I feel like donating money to each icon represented who is a bona fide business. We left some money in the Blue Whale donation lockbox when we stopped there earlier this summer. We also stopped and ate at the Palm Cafe across from Tall Paul hotdog man twice, both on our way out and on our way in! I know the Round Barn went through a lot of renovations recently, so I’m sure they could use a donation too.

          Isn’t the Oatman experience just so cool?? I loved feeding those little guys!!

          Thanks so much for the kind compliments too, by the way. It’s always a blast meeting 66 fans on the road, but somehow all the more cool finding them online…swapping stories and such.

  • Susan
    Sep 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm Reply

    Does the fact that K-mart’s uses the brand name “Route 66” have anything to do with it?

    1. Fading Nostalgia
      Sep 30, 2012 at 7:32 pm Reply

      Not sure Susan, but I think it’s doubtful. Since the brand would still be Curiosity Shoppe and “Route 66” would only be a graphic imprinted on the wares, it wouldn’t infringe on Kmart’s branding trademark.

  • Tom B.
    Feb 27, 2013 at 4:22 pm Reply


    Anyone know where I can order any of the HWY 66 collection? I would love to get about 10 of the leaning water tower platters. I used to work there when it was a functioning truck stop. HELP!!!

    1. Fading Nostalgia
      Feb 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm Reply

      Hey Tom! Did you check ebay out yet? I only see one up for sale right now, but keep checking! Here’s a link: Also, would you mind telling us about your time at the truckstop?? You can email us at We’d love to hear about it!

  • Cathy F.
    Jun 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm Reply

    Hi, I just found your website and this discussion because we came across some of these plates at our local Goodwill. We had to get the wigwam hotel lunch plates for a friend, and then were confused about the Route 32. I guess the mystery is still unsolved.
    I did google ‘route 66 trademark’ and found this site from a company in Switzerland: and some references to links from 2010 about a Netherlands company claiming ownership.
    Maybe I’ll put the dinner plates up for sale on ebay.

    1. Fading Nostalgia
      Jun 26, 2013 at 9:43 pm Reply

      The merchandise was well designed so it was hard to pass it by…as for trademarking “Route 66” I don’t think one can lay claim to a public domain or highway name. But nothing is surprising today…

  • To Play or Not
    Aug 13, 2013 at 10:47 am Reply

    Thanks for the info on the Curiosity Shoppe, Target line. My sis found the Britten USA platter in a Dallas area thrift shop . Her curiosity prompted her to purchase the platter since we are from Groom, home of the Britten USA tower. Your site has been very helpful since we were not aware of the ROAD TRIP collection produced for Target. I do have to laugh about the tower being part of the route 66 folklore since that tower was not put up until well after route 66 was “paved over and became I-40. In fact it was not put up until after HWY 40 went around the town. Again thanks for the info.

    1. Fading Nostalgia
      Aug 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm Reply

      You’re very welcome! Very interesting about the Britten tower! Do you have any additional information about it? Do you know if they constructed it just as an unusual roadside attraction or was there any additional purpose?

  • Kimberly Britten
    Aug 28, 2013 at 12:43 pm Reply

    I love reading everyone’s answers about the Britten USA leaning water tower, located off of interstate 40. I am the actual owner of the Britten USA Leaning Water Tower. It was actually put up when route 66 was booming. My grandfather bought it at a local auction and someone bet him that he could not put it in sideways, so he said “watch me.” I then began to attract tourists from all over the world. Unfortunately, the truckstop had burned down in 1986 which was well after I 40 was put up. It did upset me that the numbers 32 are on the platters because of the significance that route 66 has in my heart and in my life. When I saw these platters in target my stomach dropped and I started to shake because this tower is mine, i own it, and it’s in target all over the world. I then began to buy them at as many target locations I could. I am actually in the process of putting a patent on this historical landmark, but I was very thrilled that others viewed this as the piece of artwork that I did.

    1. Fading Nostalgia
      Aug 28, 2013 at 1:07 pm Reply

      Kim thank you SO MUCH for replying to this and sharing your fascinating story!! As Route 66 fans, we love hearing the history about these landmarks and the Britten tower is one that was always a bit of a mystery. I can’t imagine how you must’ve felt when you saw the Target collection – like seeing a photo of your home for the entire world to purchase. Mind-boggling. But you’re right, if people appreciate it as art, that’s pretty cool too! Do you mind if I copy and paste your comment into the actual blog post in case other people who come across it don’t read the comments section? I think it’s definitely a piece of history Route 66 fans should know!

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