With fall sports still up in the air, Chapel Hill’s UNC gamewear and apparel businesses say there are troubling times ahead.
Stores like Underground Printing, Classic Carolina and the Shrunken Head Boutique are all fixtures on Franklin Street. While most of these businesses are used to the summer lull when students leave Chapel Hill to return to their hometowns, the COVID-19 pandemic has extended that dead time indefinitely.
Ellianna Tickle, the sales manager at Underground Printing, said the store has held off on ordering new North Carolina apparel and has mainly just restocked its most popular items since the future of fall sports remains uncertain.
“You never know if next month the state's going to shut down again. You just kind of have to prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” Tickle said.
Underground Printing is a print shop that specializes in screen-printing and embroidering game day apparel. Mainly located near Big Ten schools, the Franklin Street iteration is the only UGP retail store in North Carolina.
The store has reduced its operating hours and limited the number of store associates in the building at one time. Like many Chapel Hill businesses, UGP is offering masks and hand sanitizer to people entering the store.
Although the number of people coming into the store is lower than in years past, Tickle said more people are now taking advantage of the business’ online order function.
She said student groups, both athletic and social, make up a large portion of their orders. Despite these clubs and groups becoming more remote, Tickle said they still want to show their association to their departments and activities.
“Groups within the law school, groups within the school of pharmacy and some club sports have started to reach out. Even though they might not be having a season right now, they kind of still want the apparel, so some of them have started to reach out. At this very moment, it's definitely students who are driving (business) right now,” Tickle said.
While there may not be fans on football game days to bring foot traffic to the store this year, Tickle says the store was able to pivot with their online ordering option and remain open.
“Saturday mornings were always the busiest day of the week, even Friday night. People would come in Friday and stay till Saturday,” Tickle said. “You're not gonna see the foot traffic on Franklin Street in general without football season. Even if they have, are they gonna let fans in? Or are they just going to have tailgating in certain places? You just don't know what's going to happen.”
For Classic Carolina, move-in week for the fall semester brought back pre-COVID levels of business. Plenty of parents bustled into the store, buying Carolina apparel for their freshly minted Tar Heels.
However, the departure of students from campus a week later took the store back to the summer lull in business. Classic Carolina depends heavily on game day foot traffic. Without football, Drew Chellani, the store owner, said he’s not sure if the store will stay in business.
“There used to be 50,000 people on the street. But now with people not being allowed in the stadium, it’s been a massive decline in revenue,” Chellani said.
Football games and sporting events are important to Classic Carolina because they draw in the store’s primary customer base.
“It’s mostly UNC alumni, a few students and a lot of parents who come to move the students in who shop here. Parents have the money to go shopping for their kids and new students who are looking at Carolina,” Chellani said.
Located on Franklin Street for the past 20 years, Chellani said the store has seen a 97 percent decline in revenue since the the pandemic began and sent most college students home in March.
“With no end in sight, we’ll have to make the decision whether to stay or close. There’s no point staying if you’re not doing any business,” Chellani said.
The Shrunken Head Boutique
Brand manager Alana Loken said unlike some stores on Franklin Street, the Shrunken Head Boutique usually experiences business every day in the summer from UNC summer camps and campus tours, but those events this summer were canceled. She said the store is focusing more on online orders to make up for the decrease in in-person sales caused by coronavirus.
After students left in mid-March, Loken said the store experienced very little store traffic until students began to return in August. But just as quickly as students arrived, they left campus during move-out week.
“Our primary customer base is alumni and UNC fans and visitors. While students are not the largest portion of our customer base, they still are an important group and what happens on campus affects who will visit Chapel Hill in general,” Loken said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel.
Shrunken Head is following CDC guidelines by offering hand sanitizer, requiring masks in the store and cutting store hours.
“During the pandemic, we have greatly changed the way we order product to accommodate for the uncertainty of sales that usually would be guaranteed. For example, football home game Saturdays. We have also shortened our in-store hours to make up for the increase in online sales efforts we are putting in,” Loken said in the email.
Loken said the store expects to see a decrease in sales as a direct result of campus events and fall sports having low attendance. In the immediate future, though, Shrunken Head plans to continue promoting online orders and has no intention of closing.
“We are the longest standing UNC store in Chapel Hill and we do not intend to go anywhere,” Loken said in the email. “We have seen the good and bad and while no one has seen an event like COVID, we are confident in the support of the Tar Heel community.”
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