Ninel Pompushko, T-Shirt Deli
In 1999, after working in advertising for three years, writing headlines for beer campaigns and copy for TV commercials, Pompushko went freelance. Before long she began to get "beered out," but she didn't have a next step in mind. In June 2002, on a lark, she made a few dozen T-shirts with funny phrases on them and took them to a Chicago festival. They sold out.
The tees stand alone: "I started thinking how nice it would be to sell T-shirts with my funny phrases on them, but then I realized that not everybody has my sense of humor. So I thought, Why not open a T-shirt store where people can choose exactly what they want—like when you order a sandwich at a deli? It took me more than a year to open the T-Shirt Deli. I display the shirts in deli cases, we take the orders on deli checks, and you get the shirt while you wait. A basic T-shirt is $15, and everything else—letters and decals—is á la carte. When a shirt is done, we wrap it in white butcher paper and put it in a paper bag, along with a sack of potato chips."
Patent pending: "There's no store without the concept, so from the very beginning, we trademarked every single thing involved in the look of the store."
Clothes call: "I was afraid to quit freelancing, but three months after we opened, I had to—we were so busy. Now I can't believe that my business is not only paying for me but it's providing for six other people."
Unexpected bonus: "I haven't had to do any advertising—the T-shirts are their own advertisement."