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
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
[Originally published in May, 2014.]