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The Brilliant Way an Iconic NYC Corner Store Is Using Branded T-shirts to Keep Itself in Business

September 24, 2019 | Hannah Abrams

Those of us in the promotional apparel space know the value of branded T-shirts, but it’s still always nice to see the items make headlines for their effectiveness. Recently, Eater reported on a New York City bodega called Gem Spa that created a T-shirt it hopes will save it from closing. And the store has a brilliant plan for selling them.

According to the article, Gem Spa, a corner store in Manhattan’s East Village, claims to the be the birthplace of the egg cream (that weird carbonated milk drink), and has appeared in several movies, including “Desperately Seeking Susan.” In other words, the facade and its interiors are iconic. However, that status is apparently not enough to save Gem Spa from the possibility of extinction. The building’s landlord is hoping to sell the storefront to Citibank, but Parul Patel, the store’s owner, isn’t going without a fight.

To combat the threat of closing, Patel started talking to her regulars about what exactly kept them coming back to Gem Spa, and it turned out it was the memories. To capitalize on the nostalgia, Patel created T-shirts so her regulars could have a reminder of their experiences, and newcomers, like the students who live in the area, would see the branding.

To get the $20 shirt, you must visit the store and put your name on a list. Then, you get a handwritten receipt with your order and instructions to watch for updates on the store’s Instagram account. In other words, it’s a waiting-list-type deal.

“As someone who works in fashion, it kind of strikes the same chord of devotion that the cult brands strike,” Remy Holwick, an East Village model and photographer, told Eater about the shirts. “I was making jokes about it like ‘Guys, we need to set up like a red velvet rope outside of Gem Spa because we are all waiting in line for T-shirts now.’”

So far, the store has sold 600 T-shirts, with plans to expand the merchandise line. Whether or not these new promotional apparel expansions will be enough to save the store remains to be seen, but it’s definitely creating a buzz.

Not to mention, Gem Spa just proved the power of exclusivity when it comes to branded merchandise.

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