WICKER PARK — A store selling CTA-themed T-shirts and gear is pulling into Wicker Park.
A collection of 100 CTA “L” stops signs — from McKinley Park's 35th/Archer to Uptown's Wilson stop — hit the shelves at Transit Tees, which opened this month at 1371 N. Milwaukee Ave, next to Filter Cafe. And, yes, there's a "D" for Damen that mimics the design of a rectangular CTA "L" station sign.
"People in Chicago love their neighborhoods. The 'L' station is what connects them to the area," said Transit Tee's founder Tim Gillengerten, 47.
Gillengerten got the inspiration for his company while standing at the Western Blue Line "L" stop years ago.
“I would ride my bike downtown to work in summer but winters I’d take the 'L,'" the Bucktown resident recalled. "I stared and stared at those 'L' station signs and thought I needed to do something with them."
The Michigan native and Columbia College-educated graphic designer sold his products online, at street fests, in a booth at the Andersonville Galleria, and wholesale to 48 other neighborhood shops until finally deciding it was time to open a permanent retail storefront for Transit Tees in Wicker Park.
Many factors played into the decision, most notably the CTA's decision to grant Transit Tees the right to be an official manufacturer of CTA-inspired apparel and merchandise.
Since the CTA has been selling the shirts online, and launched a promotion campaign, sales have now tripled, the retailer said.
Gillengerten declined to share how much of a cut that the CTA makes, but seemed happy enough that he's got a permanent studio for himself and a team of six designers who share studio space in the back of the store.
Gillengerten is careful to say “inspired by CTA" because he does not actually use the CTA logo, nor would he want to even if he could.
What makes the apparel unique is that they are not literal renditions of CTA 'L' stops or maps. "The Loop Stripe," Transit Tee's best-seller, features all eight color-coded "L" lines running down the front of its shirt, mimicking the direction of the lines without explicity identifying them.
The next item in popularity — at least based on the shop's first few weeks of sales — are a necktie with embroidered "L" station line maps that sells for $42 and a distressed version of the Chicago flag.
He also sells messenger bags and $3 magnets.
“One guy came into the store that’s moved around a lot in the city. He was buying a magnet for every 'L' stop he used to live by,” Gillengerten said. "People in Chicago love their neighborhoods and an 'L' stop is representative of where they live, or have lived."