Underground Printing Moves to Vic Village.
And finds a Covid silver lining in charity T-shirts.
by Micheline Maynard
From the August, 2020 issue
Underground Printing has been located somewhere on South University since 2006--originally on the north side of the street, where two ATMs now stand, then on the south side, next to Good Time Charley's, and, since this summer, on the north side again in the new Vic Village North student high-rise.
In a normal year, the Ann Arbor-based printer and retail chain would be ramping up to make school-themed swag and fill custom orders from university departments, clubs, and student organizations, says Rishi Narayan, who started printing T-shirts with fellow U-M engineering student Ryan Gregg in 1992. Now they have a major production facility on Jackson Rd. and more than twenty stores around the country. This year, with college life up in the air, they're filling the void with another specialty: charity T-shirts.
"Fundraising and online orders are something we've been doing for years and years," Narayan says. "In this time of Covid, it definitely turned into getting gear and swag and being able to virtually participate in events. We were doing that almost exclusively to a degree the past few months."
This spring, Underground Printing made T-shirts for the Ann Arbor Hospitality Fundraiser, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to staff members from sixty area restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and other small businesses. They also made shirts for a similar fundraiser supporting Chicago hospitality workers that showed the iconic John Hancock Building (now called 875 North Michigan Avenue) with a towel over its "arm," toting a tray. More than 27,000 of the $25 shirts were purchased in less than twenty-four hours, according to Block Club Chicago, an online news site. "I was excited to be part of it," Narayan says. They also made the shirts for Zingerman's 2020 Reuben Tour.
Narayan estimates that custom orders make up about 80 percent of Underground Printing's business, depending on location, which is why he's fine with the new store being about half the size of the previous one across the street.
Narayan isn't too worried about the uncertain academic schedule. "We know nothing about what's going to happen," he says, but "we don't expect a huge drop [in sales]. It varies market to market." And he figures the pandemic can't last forever. "If not this fall, then next fall," he says, "there will hopefully be a big push" to draw customers.
Underground Printing, 1107 South University, Ste. C. (734) 929-6648. Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Sat. & Sun. undergroundshirts.com
[Originally published in August, 2020.]
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