Last summer was a wonderful blur of rock shows, frito pie, beer drinking and lady arm wrestling, thanks to Zoo City Apparel. It was so strange to show up to a rock show at the downtown clothing venue before the sun had set, hanging out in front of a rack of 406 shirts and big windows, eating snacks and watching musicians set up on stage. ZCA has offered a badly needed, non-bar, all-ages place to hear music—everything from one guy playing guitar to gregarious 10-member Total Fest bands to sludgy metal groups. And this fall and winter, under the cover of darkness, ZCA’s early shows felt like endless evenings of sweat and tunes that often led into after-hours parties elsewhere...or at the Oxford.
No longer. Zoo City Apparel has announced it will be moving out of the space March 1. The change is bittersweet. Bitter because we’re losing this fantastic music venue, which I expect will hold memories for people for years to come. Sweet because it’s a move that will allow the company to focus on the business of custom printing and not spreading themselves thin also running a retail store. Owner Chris Johnson created the 406 ® brand apparel, which gained popularity for those of us who have area code pride—and that’s most of us. That brand will not be going anywhere. Johnson and the local store The Green Light now have a partnership where the Green Light will take over sales and distribution of the brand. That means it’ll be expanded online and distributed across the state in a way that Johnson didn’t have time to do while also running the custom print shop.
“I almost felt a little of the old Catholic guilt on that,” Johnsons says. “People were having a hard time getting [the apparel] and I think we have a responsibility to make sure they get it."
The print shop will be expanded in the Ceretana building, which may or may not be open to the public, but will not be a retail space.
ZCA as a music space never made much business sense, but it was a passion for Johnson and his friends.
“To provide a space that’s all ages and had the kind of music we had there and to have it be as laid back as it was, it needs a parent organization," he says. "Typically it costs us money. But it’s close to all our hearts. We played host but the shows were a community effort. I didn’t realize it would be this big. People got pretty attached. For good reason. It was a good, easy way to get music out there."
You can see two more shows at Zoo City Apparel this month, before they close. And Johnson says there might be a last hurrah party, but it's up in the air.
Catch Spencer's album release with King Elephant, Buddy Jackson and Cory Fay Sun., Feb. 17, at 6 PM. $3. Catch the UM Irish Studies Punk Rock Fundraiser Sat., Feb. 23. Doors open at 5 PM. Cover TBA. Zoo City Apparel, 139 E. Main