MLB lockdown will ‘definitely hurt’ Obvious Shirts’ Wrigleyville store

Lockouts suck.

It may seem obvious. It might even look like a t-shirt idea.

In fact, if the Cubs’ season ever starts, you might even be able to see a t-shirt like this on display before or after a game at the store on the corner of Clark and Grace, a block north of Wrigley Field.

This is where Obvious Shirts founder Joe Johnson found prime neighborhood retail space to take advantage of baseball season and neighborhood foot traffic to grow his primarily t-shirt business. online that has exploded since its launch six years ago.

Just in time for Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball to begin canceling regular season games for the first time in 27 years.

“As a fan first, I’m upset,” Johnson said from outside his unfinished storefront in Wrigleyville. “As a businessman, that’s definitely going to have ramifications.”

Obvious, right?

So is it: The more the MLB lockdown delays the start of the season as players and owners negotiate a new labor contract, the more Wrigleyville businesses take another punch in their businesses after two years of losses related to the pandemic.

RELATED: MLB delivers another blow to Wrigleyville businesses

By the nature of its online sales base, Johnson has some cover against the most severe financial difficulties faced by local businesses such as bars and restaurants – many of which rely on the baseball season for 70% or more of their income.

But its story is an example of the widespread impact across a wide range of industries that the second-longest work stoppage in MLB history has had on local economies driven by gaming traffic.

“We spent a lot of time exploring different places, and we came across this one and were lucky enough to be a block north of the stadium,” Johnson said. “We expect large crowds and a large crowd of fans to stop by before or after games. So not having that is definitely going to hurt.

“We’re lucky to be online as well, but we’re putting a lot of time and effort into making things happen. So, yes, it’s going to affect business quite substantially.

Obvious shirts will ‘certainly hurt’ MLB lockdown

Devin Wenzel, a former University of Cincinnati teammate of Cubs outfielder Ian Happ, is Johnson’s co-manager who helps run the growing business, as well as a Phillies-turned-Cubs loyalist.

Above all, he’s a fan, like Johnson.

Neither saw it coming, this collision of fan and corporate emotions with a lockout that began on December 2.

“I know it’s really disappointing for anyone who is just pure baseball fans,” Wenzel said, “and it’s just not something we prepared for as a company.”

Devin Wenzel and Johnson

NBC Sports Chicago

Devin Wenzel and Johnson

The timing of the new store’s opening — less than a block from their first physical location that opened last July on Grace — was as obvious as the brand: the electric vibe of Opening Day.

It was supposed to be April 4 against the Cardinals. Now he doesn’t even appear on the team’s website, erased from the schedule.

“We’ve been waiting for a retail store for a long time, and we want to give fans a place where they can come and shop and buy a shirt or a sweatshirt before or after the game,” Johnson said. “Not having that, especially in an Opening Day type atmosphere, was a huge loss for us.”

Anyone who is familiar with the brand and has seen the jerseys worn regularly by Cubs players in recent years probably knows what the next obvious question for Obvious jerseys might be:

New Rob Manfred shirts in the works and what could they say?

“That’s the No. 1 question we’ve received in the last 48 to 72 hours,” said Johnson, who doesn’t have such an obvious answer.

Turns out the “player-centric” business that started because Johnson made himself a custom shirt to support Jake Arrieta is doubly licensed by MLB and the Players Union.

“I feel like the kid going through their parents’ divorce, and each parent says one thing about the other parent,” Johnson said. “It’s a tough avenue because I have to make mom and dad happy and not hate myself. I don’t want to be locked out of my own house.

Imagine Rob Manfred having joint custody of you.

“I could run away,” Johnson said.

Someday that might be even more laughable than this cold day in a too quiet corner of Wrigleyville. Maybe even one day soon.

For now?

“I just want baseball back,” he said. “That’s all.”

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Neal T. Doss