THE HUB — Selling the Bronx has become a vibrant industry for friends Anthony Ramirez II and John Martin.
The pair filled a gap in the market after noticing a plethora of 'I Heart New York" t-shirts, but no Bronx merchandise.
Within a month, the two were sitting inside a rented helicopter taking aerial photographs of The Bronx to turn into posters. They were the first items sold on their borough-centric clothing and souvenir website, From The Bronx, set up six years ago.
Now Ramirez and his crew now say they want to win a $250,000 grant to open a flagship retail brick-and-mortar store in the Hub.
“A storefront like this will be more than just clothing,” said Paul Ramirez, 31, Anthony’s brother and the head of customer relations for the company, which operates out of the house where the brothers grew up in Parkchester.
“It’s all about changing the perception of The Bronx from within the borough.”
When Ramirez and Martin launched their website in 2006, they began to sell items — Bronx t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, buttons and artwork — that they designed or collaborated on with local artists.
They also developed a Bronx-obsessed Facebook page, both to promote their business and to share news and views about the borough, which today boasts 104,691 “likes” — a massive number for an online company with four employees.
The band of entrepreneurs also provides branding and marketing services to other small businesses through a spin-off company, Mainland Media. And they have plans to help open a beer hall this summer on Arthur Avenue.
One of their ventures, a four-day pop-up shop they installed in an empty storefront in May last year in Melrose, led to their current idea for a permanent space in the Hub.
At the temporary store at 151st Street and Courtlandt Avenue, the company sold its Bronx-branded gear, along with canvases and sculptures by local artists. They also set up a booth with historical photos and facts about the neighborhood, hosted dance-offs and brought in samples of food from nearby restaurants, all of which attracted enthusiastic crowds.
“After we did that,” said Anthony Ramirez, 33, “it sort of confirmed that we should have a retail location.”
A permanent From The Bronx store would feature rotating artwork by Bronxites, regular events such as spoken word performances and break dancing and, of course, the company’s Bronx merchandise — though with new offerings, such as hats, shoes, jewelry and art prints.
To cover start-up costs, the company entered a grant-making contest sponsored by Chase and the small business discount site, LivingSocial, which is offering up to 12 grants worth $250,000 each to small businesses around the country.
Each company must submit an application describing its plans for the money and round up 250 online votes by June 30 to be considered by a panel of judges, which includes a co-founder of AOL and other entrepreneurs. The panel will choose the winners in September.
From The Bronx entered the contest Monday. By Wednesday morning, they had already garnered 290 votes. Their goal is to reach 1,000.
To that end, the Ramirez brothers have been driving around the borough and speaking to Bronxites they meet on the street.
They pull up the website on their cell phones, then ask if the person would ever buy any of their Bronx gear. If so, they ask the stranger to try on a From The Bronx t-shirt and pose for a picture to be posted on the Facebook page.
“People don’t realize how proud they are to live in The Bronx,” said Paul Ramirez, “until they see a Bronx t-shirt.”