Cristen Conger

The Great Cupcake Depression


Is the specialty cupcake bubble bursting?
Is the specialty cupcake bubble bursting?
© Gene Blevins/Corbis

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal broke some terrifying news: "The icing is coming off America's cupcake craze."

Cue ominous thunder clap sound effect!

Reporters Emily Maltby and Sarah E. Needleman explain that the economic outlook for cupcakeries (like a bakery, but only for cupcakes -- get it?) looks grim based on the stock performance of Crumbs Bake Shop. In June 2011, when the cupcake mania apparently reached it zenith, Crumbs went public at more than $13 per share. Now the company's stock has suck like an unleavened confection to just $1.70 per share, quite possibly due to the company's rapid expansion from one Manhattan store in 2003 to 67 locations around the U.S. Moreover, people probably aren't as pumped to spend more than $4 on a sweet treat as they used to be. It's like Holland 1637 all over again.

"People get tired of things," on New Jersey cupcakery owner flatly told The Wall Street Journal.

Personally, I was never on the cupcake bandwagon not so much for a distaste for handheld desserts but more the absurdity of spending so much cash on one. They're also awkward to eat in public, due to the two inches of delicious cream cheese frosting heaped atop them like ten galloon hats of butter and powdered sugar. The market saturation has been incredible to watch, though; I could probably walk to at least three "artisan" cupcake joints in my neighborhood (not that I would because, again, a $4 cupcake is bananas in my skinflint-y opinion).

The WSJ's Matlby and Needlemen attribute America's Cupcake Madness to television: "Demand for gourmet cupcakes exploded in the early 2000s after Magnolia Bakery, another popular New York cupcake chain, was featured in the HBO series "Sex and the City." The sweet treats have since become central characters in TV shows like the Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" and TLC's "DC Cupcakes.""

Speaking to Jezebel, Buzzfeed Food's Rachel Sanders saw a more philosophical side to the cupcake craze beyond humans' ever-gnawing sweet tooth: "This is getting a little deep, but I believe they tap into our American cultural tendency toward selfishness and emotional isolation...Like, what other culture needs a kind of cake that is literally impossible to share; if you even try it just disintegrates into crumbs and sadness? You are going to be alone forever, so go ahead and carbo-load."

It was only a matter of time before the cupcake bubble burst, as it's such a niche business. But how will America get its overpriced frosting fix next? Cake pop pop-up shops? Macaroon marts? Pie pushcarts? Please let it be pie pushcarts. Unless it's $4 per slice, in which case I'm buying some Oreos and calling it a day.