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Christopher Thomle

Christopher Thomle, T-shirt Hunter

Thrift shopping leads to a vintage T-shirt shop.

by Micheline Maynard

From the August, 2021 issue

Seattle native Christopher Thomle first visited Ann Arbor with a buddy six years ago to partake in Hash Bash. While here, he toured local thrift shops and noticed an impressive array of vintage T-shirts.

"They were putting out T-shirts all the time," he says.

Enticed by the local vibe, he moved to Ann Arbor, where his T-shirt addiction kept growing. Eventually, he owned 4,000 T-shirts, which inspired him to open a shop on eBay.

Meanwhile, Thomle met Christina Morales Hemenway, whose father, Elmo Morales, owns Elmo's Liberty Street T-shirts. During several Art Fairs, Elmo let him set up a booth in front of his store to peddle his vintage wares.

By 2019, the hassles of packing and shipping the shirts he sold in his eBay store prompted Thomle to start looking for a retail space. At that time, "everything was too expensive or too big," he says.

Then, last summer, Thomle and--Hemenway--whom he calls the "T-shirt heiress of Ann Arbor"--were out walking when they spotted a tiny spot for lease on the lower level of East Liberty Plaza, across from the downtown post office.

Though only 400 square feet, "It was the perfect size" to hold his inventory, Thomle says. He decided "it's now or never," and UniQue T-Shirts was born.

The shop has hundreds of vintage and new T-shirts with a potpourri of images--rock stars like Bruce Springsteen, Marvel comic characters, science themes, funny slogans, tie-dye shirts, and of course, U-M gear, from jerseys to sweatshirts.

There also are about eighty pairs of collectible sneakers in stock, from Nike, Adidas, and other brands.

About 20 percent of his inventory is brand-new; the rest of it is used but in "very good condition," Thomle says, without tears, holes, or obvious stains.

Most T-shirts sell for about $12 each, but several are priced at $100, including his most valuable item, from a 1976 Peter Frampton concert.

He is saving anything pricier than that for his eBay store. It's currently dormant, but he

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expects to restart it after New Year's. "The T-shirt industry dies for the winter," Thomle says.

Thomle says he's been selling sixty or seventy shirts per week, and in turn, purchases about 100 weekly, including those sold to him by individual customers. "I love it when people bring stuff to me. Most of the time, I say no, but some stuff I say yes on," he says.

The shop has somewhat quirky hours to accommodate his shopping schedule. On weekday afternoons, Thomle closes for a spell and heads out to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and other spots around the area. He casts his net mainly across Washtenaw County, although he has searched farther.

"I never miss a day, and that's what makes this business work for me," Thomle says.

He posts photos of each find on his Facebook page and also will take requests, although it's tough to find specific concert tours. Thomle was surprised to hear that the Twilight movie series is especially popular. "It wasn't cool, and now it's cool again," he says.

If customers spot a shirt they like on Facebook, they can call him, and he'll hold it briefly for them. "I'm the T-shirt hunter," he says. "It's all hand-collected for you."

UniQue T-Shirts, 255 E. Liberty, ste. 255. (734) 604-5592. Tue., Wed., Fri. 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. & 5-7 p.m. Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 11 am.-7 p.m. Closed Mon. & Thurs. www.facebook.com/UniQueTShirtsAnnArbor/     (end of article)

[Originally published in August, 2021.]

 


 
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