As Philly teams win, Philly t-shirt bootleggers lose

Jennifer Kerrigan

In theory, it should be a gold mine for bootleg t-shirt sellers in Philadelphia right now.

The Eagles won the Super Bowl in February, Villanova just won the NCAA basketball National Championship, the Sixers are cashing in on “The Process” and heading to the playoffs, and the Flyers should be postseason participants as well.

“It ain’t no business at all. We wasn’t making no money,” said a t-shirt vendor who declined to give his name just after Villanova paraded down Market Street Thursday. “This is bad. … it’s a lot kids.”

Shirts initially priced at $20 were slashed as low as $5 by many venders even though a decent turn out of fans was gathered just next to City Hall to watch Jay Wright and his players celebrate in unseasonably cold weather on a weekday morning.

This wasn’t a trend only on Nova’s parade day. It happened for the Eagles too. 

With two million, give or take, crammed into the city for the Eagles first ever Super Bowl parade, many were licking their chops — like North Philly’s Chris Johnson who set up shop at 5 a.m. Unexpectedly, by 5 p.m. he still hadn’t sold out.

“It sold but it didn’t seem like it was supposed to,” Johnson said. “Given that this was the Eagles first Super Bowl it should have been a sell out.”

Johnson said he has sold out before, most memorably when “the Giants won their last Super Bowl [a few years ago], when Obama got elected both times and the Phillies, definitely when they won the last world series.” He thinks it’s the timing, partially, paired with a changing economy that cost he and his fellow bootleggers lots of money this winter.

“Personally, I believe it’s because they gave too many days before the parade,” he said. “The Super Bowl was Sunday, the parade was Tuesday, supposedly, but it ended up being Thursday which gave fans time to go Models or order it online.”

Another potential explanation is America’s transformation to a credit card culture. Few kids carry cash anymore, a t-shirt vender told Metro, and this has impacted sales.

Super Bowl gear, in all, sold extremely well, with reporting a 50 percent increase this year in championship gear sales compared to the last high water mark set by Seahawks fans three years ago.

And for Justin Ashby, an entrepreneur who owns The Heat Check, a retail store selling sneakers and sports apparell, he is taking in some extra cash too. 

“The Eagles, anything I printed up, whether it was a catch phrase or a picture of Nick Foles, it was selling,” Ashby, whose second location happens to be just outside of Minneapolis where the Birds won Super Bowl 52, said. “After they won the championship, Model’s opened at 5, 6 a.m., but I was able to charge 15 bucks a shirt. And it wasn’t even the official licenced shirt and I had a demand on that for sure.”

Ashby, who has worked in the industry for more than a decade, surmises there might be a different reason why bootleggers in Center City (or South Philly) are seeing sales decline. He says it’s quality and competition.

“Quality is the biggest part,” Ashby, who said he sold NFC Championship shirts near the Sports Complex in January said. “You look at the guys holding up the shirts and sometimes it looks like a knockoff. It looks like if you wear it and stretch it out it will break it. There is so much competition out there, in malls, places do shirts themselves. You can get it custom and good quality for like 10 bucks.”

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