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Barrel Maker Printing shirts
Photograph: Courtesy Barrel Maker Printing

A local printer is making cool T-shirts to raise money for small Chicago businesses

Pre-order a shirt to support the Empty Bottle, the Tamale Guy, Bloodshot Records and more

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

When the world returns to (relative) normalcy, you're still going to need T-shirts to wear at home and in public. Last month, Buffalo Grove-based Barrel Maker Printing launched an online store that allows you to stock up on shirts emblazoned with tributes to some of Chicago's most beloved small businesses while supporting the out-of-work staff at music venues, record stores and board game cafés throughout the city. You can even pick up two designs dedicated to Claudio, the original Tamale Guy!

Founded by Erin and Justin Moore in their Logan Square apartment in 2009, Barrel Maker has printed everything from shirts celebrating the Chicago Cubs' World Series win in 2016 to small custom runs for local bat mitzvahs. When businesses began shutting down in mid-March, Barrel Maker immediately felt the impact of the closures. "There was a Tuesday that we realized that business wasn't regular anymore and things were changing very quickly," Barrel Maker VP Zach Corn told us. "We do a lot of live printing, and all of our live printing events canceled in one day."

With many friends working in Chicago's service industry who were out of jobs due to the Illinois "stay-at-home" order, Barrel Maker employees began reaching out to local business to set up its Saving Small Business Chicago online store. Using artwork submitted by businesses (or pairing them with a local artist), Barrel Maker started taking pre-orders for a line of T-shirts, with each purchase contributing $10 to a fund that will ultimately be split between all of the participating businesses. "It felt good because this was saving [Barrel Maker's] business and saving our jobs, but it was also a way to save each other," Corn said.

Since the online store launched last month with designs dedicated to the Empty Bottle, Bloodshot Records and Reckless Records, Barrel Maker has starting receiving requests from other Chicago businesses interested in being a part of the fundraising effort. Designs devoted to Logan Square record store Bric-a-Brac Records, the Music Box Theatre and the original Tamale Guy (Barrel Maker employees also purchased some face masks for Claudio and his family) have been added in recent weeks, but Barrel Maker plans to stop taking orders on April 25 and distribute the money raised to the participating businesses.

While Barrel Maker is classified as an essential business due to the printing it does for emergency companies and has been able to get a head start on manufacturing some of the Saving Small Business Chicago shirts, the tees won't begin shipping to buyers until after the "stay-at-home" order is lifted.

In the meantime, Barrel Maker is creating standalone online stores for Chicago businesses like Laurie's Planet of Sound, 16" on Center and Maplewood Brewery, allowing them to raise money for employees through sales of T-shirts and tote bags, as well as tips from customers. The Buffalo Grove printers' next project will sell T-shirts designed by local artists to raise funds for the United States Postal Service, which has seen a dramatic drop in revenue and hasn't received any financial assistance through federal stimulus packages. "We can't really donate money directly to [the USPS], so the idea is that all of the funds will be used to buy stamps or postcard stamps and then we'll donate those to a nonprofit," Corn told us.

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