When the coronavirus pandemic sent the service industry into a tailspin, Tampa’s Social House bar and restaurant had to lay off staff.
Then co-owner Logan Payne got some help from afar.
A cousin who works for the Washington, D.C. company BreakingT, which creates T-shirts ripped from the sports headlines, wanted to sell a shirt picturing new Buccaneer Tom Brady as the Bucs’ old logo Bucco Bruce. They worked out a deal: If someone clicked to buy the shirt through Social House’s Facebook or Instagram, the bar would keep the proceeds.
Amount raised so far: $3,000.
“Like a lot of businesses out there, we’re trying to get as creative as possible to keep as much of our staff as possible, and keep it going,” Payne said. “We’re still trucking along.”
A handful of Tampa Bay bars and restaurants are doing the same with shirts of their own. Call it coronavirus merch — T-shirts designed and sold specifically to help local businesses in crisis.
“It’s just a great way to support my staff, but also take care of some other folks in town, and try to keep some business flowing their way, too,” said Joel Davis, owner of Commune + Co. and Union at Armature Works in Tampa.
After an employee suggested making T-shirts, Davis got a local artist, graphic designer and printer involved, extending the benefits beyond just his staff of 13. After just a few days, a pre-sale had brought in more than $1,000.
“My plan is 100 percent to be open as soon as it’s safe and makes sense, and continue to be a benefit to my crew, my family and our community,” he said. “That’s the only reason I’m in it to begin with, is for it to be good for me and for everyone involved.”
After losing two-thirds of their 25-plus employees, Tampa coffee shop and roasters King State launched a limited run of benefit merch. Co-owners Tim McTague and Nate Young are both touring musicians — McTague in Underoath, Young in Anberlin — and “know how much design and T-shirts matter to a touring economy,” McTague said.
“We sell a good amount of King State merch as it is, so we thought we had a good market for people that would really want to buy a well-designed shirt,” McTague said. “We just knew we had an audience, and we wanted to leverage that audience, if they wanted to donate in the best way possible.”
King State put up 300 T-shirts and 70 tote bags. All of it sold out.
“We thought we’d raise $1,000 or $2,000. We ended up raising over $8,000,” McTague said. “We knew it would do well. We didn’t think it would do that well.”
Other music enterprises are getting in on the T-shirt game, too. Emo Night Tampa, which has spun tunes at the Bricks in Ybor City for three years, is selling a death metal-styled tee to support Bricks employees.
And Ol’ Dirty Sundays, a long-running old school hip-hop and R&B night at Crowbar in Ybor City, launched a limited run of T-shirts available only through April 12. Those proceeds will benefit the night’s resident DJs, “and will also help book the first guest once we are cleared to be open again,” organizers wrote on Instagram.
Tom DeGeorge, the owner of Crowbar in Ybor City, has taken out loans to get him through these first few rough weeks. But when a friend offered to make a Crowbar T-shirt to help raise money, he agreed — on one condition. He wanted the T-shirts to celebrate the venue’s first concert upon reopening, something that “commemorated what we had all been through together.” Once they book a date and lineup, they’ll start printing. Until then, they’re pre-selling the shirts with no design.
At least 150 people have purchased one nonetheless.
“I was amazed at the outpouring of support,” DeGeorge said. “I believe that there’s a lot more important things that people could be sending money to. … At the same time, I thought, ‘This is extra money I can give to my staff while this is going on.’”
He just hopes those purchasing the T-shirts are in a good financial place themselves.
“It doesn’t help anybody for people to give, give give, and then they’re going broke themselves,” he said. “We’re all dealing with the same problem.”
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