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Saturday December 20, 2014
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Put on a Happy Face

Life is Good on Main

by Sally Mitani

From the May, 2014 issue

A year ago, Lisa Zahra closed her Life is Good store in Dexter and announced it would reappear somewhere on Ann Arbor's Main Street. Sure enough, in March, Mark Messmore opened a Life Is Good Genuine Neighborhood Shoppe in the former Seyfried Jewelers--with Zahra as its manager.

Zahra has known Messmore since he was a high school kid waiting tables at a Dexter restaurant. And Messmore, in turn, knows Boston brothers Bert and John Jacobs, who created the Life Is Good line of feel-good message T-shirts. He says the Jacobs brothers wanted him to come to Boston and work for corporate, but "I told them I was living the dream, teaching Spanish at Saline High School," which has been his day job since he graduated from U-M five years ago. Buying the store (which isn't a franchise per se, just an agreement to sell LIG products) was his solution.

Messmore is a man of almost preternatural energy and goodwill: with his wiry frame, closely shorn hair, and wide grin, he looks like that smiley stick figure that appears on a lot of LIG clothing. And his sunny optimism is just the icing on a keen business acumen. While still in college, he bought his Main Street condo above Starbucks. He can't quite remember if it was bought solely on the proceeds of working "about a hundred hours a week" waiting tables at the Red Hawk, or if by then he had also gotten into day trading, where he also made a small pile. Along the way, he started a computer service business that he runs out of another Main Street address.

The LIG store is just a sideline, largely staffed by his past and present students. Messmore proudly pays the $10.10 an hour that he hopes will become the national minimum wage, and some percentage of store profits are kicked back to a Life Is Good foundation.

Who buys the LIG brand? Vacationers in resort towns, originally, but hopefully, students

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will begin to. As stores begin to open in college towns, Messmore says, the brand has rolled out "a lot of the clothing with a more youthful, sporty style, and a slimmer cut." On this particular day, a pediatric nurse named Pam was buying a T-shirt. "Most peds nurses wear T-shirts instead of uniforms," she explains. "The younger ones wear Disney princesses, but I like these better."

Life Is Good, 304 S. Main, 369-6237. Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. ligannarbor.com ;   (end of article)

[Originally published in May, 2014.]

 

 
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