Your eyes don’t know where to focus when entering Shirts ‘n’ Things, an East Valley retail shop packed with various band and movie-related accouterments. Every surface — save the ceiling — is covered with the faces and logos of rock stars, punk bands, rap icons, reggae legends, sci-fi heroes. It’s no surprise the shop has over 50,000 SKUs.
If you’ve ever been there, you’ve probably met owners Larry and Deb Teiman – or someone related to them. “We’re definitely a family affair,” says Deb. It’s true. Her mom helps with the books, her dad will work the counter, and the kids help during the holidays.
The concept originated in 1980 with Deb’s father – the type of dad who returned from England with band-related picture discs and patches and sold them in north Phoenix. But eventually it was time to pass the torch.
“We were newly married and,” Deb starts. “We hated our jobs,” Larry finishes. Larry and Deb took over the business, selling music merch at Park 'n Swap on the weekends. In those early days, the Teimans didn’t have the “proverbial two nickels to rub together,” but managed to obtain a storefront at Southern Avenue and Dobson Road – across from Mesa Community College – in 1989.
“A few years later, it's time for a family, so each kid was raised in a crib in the back of the store for the first six months,” Larry says. Customers would bring in gifts for the babies. Today they ask after the family dog: Beaker.
Shirts ‘n’ Things is also manned by an array of employees, who are treated like family within the shirt-clad walls. “We’re blessed with a great staff,” says Larry, “There’s no person saying, ‘It’s over there.’ No one’s too cool.” Employees are encouraged to talk music, dress like they would if they were going to a show, put on whatever album they’re into at the time. These guys even had to list what their favorite bands are on their application.
Employees range in ago from teens to 20-somethings – totaling eight at this time. Deb says it’s fun to introduce the younger team members to some of the bands surrounding them. One of their younger employees didn’t know about The Dead Milkmen, but “now she’s all about them,” Deb says. Ryan Harper, 17, was introduced to everything from Suicidal Tendencies to Cher.
Former employees, dating back as far as 20 years since they worked the register, come back to visit the Teimans and the shop. Current manager Taylor McKissick says this happens on an almost weekly basis. The staff is also there pick up where Larry says he drops off music wise – which is 1992 if we’re being specific. “I’m that old guy,” he says of his presence in the store. “But you’re that old guy in a Misfits shirt,” McKissick adds. He’s totally wearing a Misfits shirt.
The store doesn’t stop at shirts, as you might guess – there are things, too. Shoppers can walk out with everything from 25-cent boomerangs and $1 NOFX stickers to $200 Doc Martin leather boots. “We have customers from newborns to someone who’s 75 looking for a Who shirt,” says Larry. He definitely said newborns, which justifies the band onesie wall in the back, neighboring the equally adorable toddler tee display.
Other “things?” Movie and band posters, women’s dresses, giant tapestries, punk patches, rock stickers, Star Wars purses, a 1,000-piece KISS puzzle.
Of course the shop has taken a hit since ’89 with the Internet, chain rock shops like Hot Topic, and now stores like Target and Kohls selling band shirts. But Larry has a rebuttal, “The big-box guys, it’s a different shirt.” He says the quality is less, the print is lacking, and you’re likely to run into someone with the same shirt. “There’s mass-market stuff, and then there’s boutique,” Larry says.
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Prices can be better, too. “We don’t price gouge,” says Deb, “We keep a pretty moderate mark-up on everything.” Adds Larry, “We have a working person’s appreciation for our customers.”
Though there must be many cool things about owning a shop like this, Larry can pinpoint the best part: “Every morning, you’re glad to get up and go to work – how cool is that?” he says. “It’s not a business you’ll ever get rich from, but what a wonderful life.”