Maxwell Street Days, running today through July 20 on State Street, is one of Madison's liveliest celebrations of local and regional retailers. Though locals often lament the recent proliferation of chains on the city's pedestrian thoroughfare, this phenomenon isn't new.
Madison native Chris Wadsworth knows that chains have been edging mom-and-pop shops out of the market for decades. In fact, he's found more than 17,000 people who are eager to learn about long-gone Madison businesses like Kellys Hamburgers, Uncle Paul's Toy Shops and Red Dot Potato Chip Company, which all shut their doors when competition became too fierce. These folks have been gathering on Wadsworth's Facebook page, Lost Madison, for the past two years.
Now local nostalgia junkies can flaunt their affection for shops of yore with clothing from Bygone Brand, a small T-shirt business based in Rockford, Illinois. Wadsworth helped the one-year-old company launch a line of Madison shirts, according to co-founder Keith Watson.
"Chris contacted us last July about partnering up with Lost Madison to create a line of retro Madison T-shirts," he says. "He became aware of our nostalgia tees via RockfordReminisce.com, a similar group that focuses on Rockford history... We instantly struck a common bond with cool old logo designs, history and love for our hometowns."
Watson says Wadsworth suggests businesses that have a lot of "nostalgic impact," and that the company puts some of these businesses on T-shirts after seeing which trademarks are available.
"Bygone Brand recreates the brand logo from scratch, giving it an authentic feel or changing it up if necessary," Watson says. "It really depends on the source material, as many images of old Madison places are scarce. We work with Chris to get his input on the design and color choices for final production, and he also writes the web page copy for each Madison shirt."
Wadsworth also promotes the Madison shirts through press releases, Lost Madison posts and other outlets.
Bygone Brand currently offers shirts featuring Kellys, Uncle Pete's and Red Dot, as well as Manchester's department store, Geri's Hamburgers and former Madison music venues Headliners and O'Cayz Corral. But the most popular design is for a long-lasting Madison institution: Rennebohm's, a local pharmacy chain that had nearly 20 locations at its height. It was sold to Walgreens in 1980, after nearly 70 years in business.
"It's really great to hear so many stories of going there as a kid," Watson says. "People love to relive a little bit of their past with a simple T-shirt."
Watson adds that he and his wife, Amy, the company's other founder, have become big fans of Madison history since the launch of the Rennebohm's shirt.
"[It] has really given me an appreciation and understanding of what a great town Madison truly is," he says. "Amy and I have spent many weekends touring different parts of the city, getting to know its history and awesome food and culture, and meeting some fabulous people. We love Madison."