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Michigan-themed retailer plans Eastown store

September 25, 2014
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Michigan-themed retailer plans Eastown store
The Mitten State’s products are “designed and printed locally, using American garments.” Courtesy The Mitten State

Grand Rapids' Eastown neighborhood will soon be a place to buy Michigan-themed apparel and merchandise.

The Mitten State in Comstock Park will be soon opening its first dedicated store in mid October in the Phoenix Building, at 1502 Wealthy St. SE.

The building’s landlord is renovating the approximately 1,600-square-foot space, which is located just across the street from Yesterdog, said Will Bransdorfer, co-founder, The Mitten State.

The store will sell T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, key chains, bumper stickers and other merchandise sporting state pride and cultural inside jokes.

The store expects to have three employees.

Growth

This is a big step from digital to physical for The Mitten State, which generates most of its sales online and operates out of an approximately 2,500-square-foot warehouse.

The company also sells to about 40 to 50 retailers in the state and is licensed with 13 Michigan colleges.

“We’re primarily online,” Bransdorfer said. “Our main focus for the new store will be trying to create a space that’s as authentic and nostalgic as possible.

“Since we started a few years ago, we’ve pretty much doubled in revenue every year. Now, that’s not saying a ton, since we were pretty small that first year, but as we grow, we’re trying to build toward the future and not be a fad.”

Bransdorfer said the company has a two-year lease on the Eastown store, which it wants to use to test the possibility of opening more retail locations as part of a franchise.

“We hope to maintain The Mitten State for as long as possible,” Bransdorfer said. “As far as the space in town goes, it’s hard to say. That amount of space seems good now, but based on growth, I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually need more space. Ideally, it’d be nice to have retail combined with the warehouse.”  

Demand

The idea for the company came after Bransdorfer and a couple of high school friends decided to start selling T-shirts.

The group’s top-selling shirt depicted Grand Rapids on a hand-based map of Michigan.

That success sparked a realization in Bransdorfer that there could be a niche market for Michigan-themed clothing and The Mitten State, which was founed in 2009.

The Mitten State then opened a small kiosk in Woodland Mall, before seeing good sales at its pop-up shop during ArtPrize last year.

“The number we thought would work to make it successful . . . we wound up tripling that number,” Bransdorfer said. “That was the moment we thought, ‘Okay, we should have this permanent.’”

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