Rising Up From the Underground


reBar in DUMBO

PJ O’Rourke walked into reBar wearing a sweatshirt of his own design.  A little self-promotion was appropriate, he thought, since the Brooklyn Tea Party was all about celebrating local artists and clothing lines.  He looked around the space and smiled. There was a good energy in the air.  He found his spot, introduced himself to those nearby, and got to work setting up the Flye Lyfe booth, all the while marveling at how far he’d come.

Growing up in Oklahoma, PJ loved to draw.  He doodled in school, daydreamed about the artist’s life, and even received some formal training in the guise of summer classes at the local community center.  He followed that path to Southern Miss where he majored in Graphic Design.  The curriculum wasn’t for him, though, and he dropped out before visions of life as a typesetter could totally squelch his fire.

The road was windy from there.  There were stops in Orlando and Biloxi, with frequent trips to New Orleans from the latter.  With New York his end goal ever since he decided there was no reason it shouldn’t be, he travelled north and headed down into the subway to sell his prints, shirts, hats, and sweats.  Business was good.  Unlike others who sold their work on street corners and parks, Flye Lyfe had a captive audience.  Transit riders were either waiting to get on their train or waiting to get off, making the guy with clothes and art a welcomed way to pass the time.  Little did PJ know about the new wrinkle waiting ahead.

One day, while selling, he was approached by two subway cops who asked to see his permit.  He couldn’t show what he didn’t have, so they and tossed him into a holding cell.  Illegal vending, they said, and even though he was let go, the experience forced him to re-evaluate some things.  Getting arrested was definitely not part of the plan.

Stepping up his game was vital, and the Tea Party at reBar put PJ on the right path.  He spoke about Flye Lyfe to everyone who’d listen.  One pair of sympathetic ears belonged to Little Bob, patron of local arts, man who got PJ the space in reBar, and apparent friend to everyone within spitting distance.

“You do some good work,” Bob looked up and said.  “C’mere.  Let me introduce you to someone.”

He led PJ through the crowd, exchanging words and smiles with the people he passed.  They stopped in front of Jared, a man with a neat, tightly cropped beard, a black hat with an almost flat brim pulled low, and an outstretched hand.

“What up, Bob?” he greeted.

“Jared,” Bob said, ” meet Flye Lyfe. Flye Lyfe, meet Jared.  He’s up here representing BeU.”

“Up here?” PJ asked.

“From Memphis,” Jared answered with a solid shake of the other’s hand.  “My partners, Jason and Josh, are keeping things rolling in Tennessee while I’m here helping the brand gain some traction.” He didn’t tell PJ how he was also a doodler in school, how he got his start as an artist by watching his father create, or how he came to New York on the back of a distribution job he had to balance with the clothing venture.  Instead of sharing any of these things, he complimented PJ on his work.  A smile spread across his lips when the words were returned.

“Check this out,” Little Bob cut in.  “I think you guys both do good work.  You should think about sharing a space.  Combine your lines, ya know, and see what happens.”

“Might be worth looking into,” PJ shrugged.

“For real,” Jared agreed.

The trio talked a little while longer before returning to their respective spaces.  Hours passed and the sales numbers climbed.  By the time the last customers left, PJ was almost completely out of product.  He walked over to Jared with a smile.

“Yo, how’d you do?”

“Good,” Jared answered.  “Real good.  You?”

“Killed it.”  He looked around and took stock of everyone else packing up their things.  There was no way to know how the competition did, but PJ was pretty sure he was one of the top sellers.  From the look of things, Jared was up there, too.  “What do you think about what Little Bob said?  About teaming up on a storefront?”

“I need to talk to my partners down in Memphis, but I like it.”  His smiled so big it pushed up the brim of his hat.  “I think they will, too.”

They found Little Bob and pulled him into the loop.  It was a good idea, they said, and were open to whatever help he could lend to bring the store to life.  The trio kept in touch over the next few months, shooting ideas back and forth and keeping their eyes on the future.

It wasn’t just about finding any opportunity.  It was about finding the right opportunity.

Following a tip from a friend, they found an open storefront at 59 Pearl Street in DUMBO, less than a block away from the place they originally met.  Neither PJ nor Jared believed in fate, but they agreed the place’s close proximity to reBar was a good sign.

Time blurred as plans were made and set into motion.  A lease was signed, the space was designed, and clothing was made.  Producing to sell in the subways was one thing.  Building inventory for a store was something else.  PJ stepped up his game and came up with enough product to fill his half.  Jared, working with Jason and Josh, balanced his full-time job with getting BeU ready for its New York retail launch.

Open for business.

Open for business.

With preparations finished, the duo opened their doors at 10am on Saturday, April 5th, welcoming a number of family and friends who shared in the excitement of the premiere. There were smiles, handshakes, hugs, congratulations, and, most importantly, sales.

“Let’s get some music going,” PJ suggested.  “Nightmares on Wax.”

“What about some Radiohead?”

“Nah, not to kick it off.  Let’s start with Wax and set this thing off right.”

“No doubt,” Jared agreed and hit play.

Visitors filtered in and out of the store, congratulating the duo and looking through the racks for clothing to buy.  It was a festive atmosphere that made the store feel more like an intimate gathering than a shopping experience.

“I’ve almost got my rent money,” Jared said around 11:30, after the initial crowd thinned out and he had time to count his sales.

“We gotta stay on top of inventory,” PJ said.  He bent over the counter and starter writing numbers and sales in a ledger.  “We’ve gotta track everything that’s taxable ‘cause we’re legitimate now.”

“No doubt,” Jared agreed.  He looked around the store with a smile, happy with how things were going but looking forward to bigger things ahead.  “Legitimate.”





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About evan

i once found, when finding was fun, a path through the stars that led straight to the sun.
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