In her 9/11 Memorial and Meditation yoga class, instructor Alison West sought to make the symbolism obvious.
"When our arms are up, they're like towers," she said to the nearly 30 students who had gathered for the special Sunday session. "When we come to the ground, it's like death."
West, whose new studio, Yoga Union, opened in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2011, is among the handful of business owners who sought to observe the 10th anniversary of the attacks with products and services more meaningful than T-shirts, magnets and other traditional memorabilia. Their efforts required a delicate balance: paying tribute to the 9/11 victims and their families without appearing to cash in on a national tragedy. The products they ended up offering range from the perplexing to the just plain weird; they included everything from iPhone speakers to shopping bags. Those hoping to commemorate the 10th anniversary could have done so by eating 9/11 sushi while sipping memorial wine after their yoga class.
By opening the class to the public for free, West says, she sidestepped the possibility of being accused of cashing in on the tragedy. But other business owners didn't have such luck. An Arizona sushi shop's 9/11 Remembrance Roll made with spicy crab, avocado and asparagus was mocked online for its frivolity.
"You get the feeling that some of these items have an extremely tangential connection to 9/11, and they seem to want to trade on the event," says Sam Craig, a professor and deputy chair of the marketing department at New York University. "At certain times, it feels excessive."
Lieb Family Cellars drew criticism from politicians and victims' family members alike when it released a commemorative chardonnay and merlot, each priced at $19.11 a bottle, to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, with up to 10% of proceeds going to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. The partnership was facilitated by Monica Iken, a 9/11 widow who sits on the board of directors at the foundation; she has worked with Lieb Family Cellars since 2004 on a separate commemorative bottle to raise money for her own 9/11 nonprofit, September's Mission.
The idea that a portion of sales proceeds from many of these products go to good causes hasn't been enough to quiet some critics. "What's next? A 9/11 pastrami sandwich?" asked Peter Vallone Jr., a Democratic councilman from Queens, in the New York Daily News. "I don't care about the small amount that they donate to charity. If anyone is profiting off of 9/11, then this wine leaves a very bad taste in my mouth."
When it comes to hawking 9/11-related goods, Craig says, any company that falls short of the Newman's Own standard donating 100% of after-tax proceeds is likely to have trouble appearing sincere. "The wine company is donating a percentage of the profits but not a huge amount," he says. "Also, wine usually is used for festive occasions, and this is a very somber occasion."
But Iken says criticism, at least of the wine, is unfounded after all, even proceeds from a government-issued commemorative coin weren't totally donated to the 9/11 memorial foundation. "I've heard nothing from families who've actually been affected by 9/11," she says. "There has not been one negative e-mail my way." And for Iken, wine is an ideal product with which to mark 9/11's 10th anniversary. "I think it's nice to have something that's beautiful that you can save and put in your wine cellar and honor someone," she says. "I tell people, 'Buy a wine and drink in honor of someone.' "
But the trickiness in honoring someone with a product that costs money is why West waived the fee of her yoga class and made a point to avoid any call for monetary donations. "I wanted the class to celebrate those who lost their lives 10 years ago without an end to money. And to give people an alternative to do something on that day that wasn't commercial."