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Lakeview, Wrigleyville, Northalsted

Obvious Shirts Opens Wrigleyville Store On Opening Day: ‘Cubs Haven’t Lost A Game Since Our Retail Store’s Been Open’

Obvious Shirts got its start as an online business in 2015 after owner Joe Johnson wore a blue shirt that read, "Jake Arrieta is good at baseball," to the player's last start of the season. By the end of the game, he had dozens of orders.

Colin Hopkinson, general manager of the Obvious Shirts store, and Devin Wenzel, chief operating officer.
Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
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WRIGLEYVILLE — As tens of thousands of Cubs fans flocked to Wrigley Field for Opening Day, a locally owned baseball T-shirt company celebrated an opening of its own.

Obvious Shirts, known for imprinting witty one-liners on its shirts, launched a brick-and-mortar store Thursday at 3776 N. Clark St., a block north of Wrigley Field.

The company also celebrated the team’s 5-4 win on Twitter by declaring, “Cubs haven’t lost a game since our retail store’s been open.”

Founder Joe Johnson got the idea for the T-shirt company in 2015 after printing the phrase, “Jake Arrieta is good at baseball,” on a blue shirt and wearing it to the imposing pitcher’s last start of the season, according to Obvious Shirts’ website. That same game, Arrieta threw a complete game shutout, striking out 11, and the shirt was a hit among Cubs fans who asked where they could get their own.

“And then I had an idea. Maybe I should make more and give the people what they want,” Johnson explained. “So now I make shirts full-time.”

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
Obvious Shirts sells thousands of shirts each month through its online store.

Johnson had tickets to home opener, so his colleagues helmed the brick-and-mortar store Thursday and explained his vision of leaving a mark on Wrigleyville.

“Joe is just so ingrained in Wrigley and wanted to leave his stamp on the neighborhood, so when the opportunity came to have a storefront, he just jumped on it,” said Colin Hopkinson, the store’s general manager.

Obvious Shirts started as an online business that Johnson ran out of his Wrigleyville basement for years, according to a 2021 Chicago Tribune feature.

During the season, the company sells 10,000-15,000 shirts a month online, according to the Tribune. With the store, the sales are poised to skyrocket.

“The business has really taken off, and it’s taken off quickly,” Hopkinson said. “It was just Joe and his girlfriend, Grace, out of their basement for the first year, and now we have a warehouse, a huge inventory and a storefront that just opened.”

Fans flocked to the store as soon as it opened at 10 a.m. Thursday, said Devin Wenzel, chief operating officer.

“A lot of our loyal fans that we regularly chat with and talk baseball with were here as soon as we opened,” Wenzel said. “We timed our grand opening with Cubs’ Opening Day because they’re all Cubs fans too. There’s been a lot of hype for today.”

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
Popular shirts include ones that read, “Seiya,” for the Cubs’ new outfielder Seiya Suzuki and, “I’d rather be at Wrigley.”

Popular shirts include ones that read “Seiya” (in the Sega video games font) for the Cubs’ new outfielder Seiya Suzuki; “I’d rather be at Wrigley”; and “23,” for Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

The Sandberg shirt features a rhino design and is also available in hats, which are new to the Obvious Shirts brand, Hopkinson said.

“The shirts that play on words and make connections for fans by using witty phrases are usually the ones that sell the best,” Wenzel said.

Obvious Shirts has gotten a publicity boost by getting Cubs players to design and wear the shirts. Offbeat relief pitcher Andrew Chafin, for example, sported a “Failed starter” shirt last season that perfectly captured his personality — and the brand.

Part of the business’ success is because it comes from a place of wanting to brighten peoples’ days, Hopkinson said.

“Joe likes to make people happy and laugh with the sayings on all the shirts he’s made,” Hopkinson said. “I think that’s why it’s grown so much.”

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
Obvious Shirts, 3776 N. Clark St.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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