Dressed in a GlitterGuts T-shirt under a Hideout sweatshirt, sipping from an Empty Bottle mug, staring at my Reader tote bag (plug!), I can hardly remember a time before I was surrounded by merch from my favorite cultural institutions. But it’s a strangely recent phenomenon, one that was in part sparked by Barrel Maker Printing’s early-in-the-pandemic push to support small businesses with a limited run of T-shirts, $10 of each sale going directly to the business sported on the tee. Those who were lucky enough to jump on the trend early were able to grab now-discontinued designs for Thalia Hall, Music Box Theatre, Quimby’s, Lula Cafe, Bucket O’Blood, and more—an especially popular shirt honoring beloved Tamale Guy, Claudio Velez, is still available for $25.
Then came the much welcome deluge of puzzles, glassware, masks, books, buttons, blankets, full concession packages from movie theaters, and enough branded pieces of clothing to build a whole new wardrobe. And it’s not just the venues and theaters and companies that these items are supporting. Local artists were called upon for signature items, like Alicia Gaines’s capsule collection for the Empty Bottle that includes a hat, mug, and long- and short-sleeved tees. To be able to scratch that middle-of-the-night-online-shopping itch, have items that scream “I’m cool,” and do your part to keep your favorite places in business? That’s a win-win-win.