Thursday, May 30, 2019
A visit to City Fun on 1st Avenue
Photos and interview by Stacie Joy
Every time I drop by City Fun (45 First Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets) there’s an album — actual vinyl — playing on the Technics turntable and buyer/manager Joshua Gabriel is usually folding t-shirts methodically or hunting for a particular size or band in the back.
The shop specializes in band and graphic tees, stocked alphabetically on shelves and hangers, and there is usually a steady stream of tourists, purists, families and fans hunting for the perfect tee or hoodie. Joshua carved some time out during a lull to answer my questions about the music, apparel and retail.
Can you speak a bit about the history of the store and how you came to be the buyer and manager?
Initially City Fun was called No-Lo Market, which succeeded Christopher’s, a new/vintage store from the late 80s/90s, located on Greenwich Avenue. When Christopher’s wound down, our current location presented as a new chapter, a repository for previous best sellers and a platform for current trends.
Sadly, this past July, the shop’s long-standing manager, a carryover from Christopher’s, unexpectedly passed away and the owner suddenly needed a replacement. A mutual friend recommended I get in touch ASAP, so I met with the owner the following evening. He and I quickly hit it off and I got the job.
During that initial encounter I recognized the shop’s potential and brought it up then and there; thankfully the owner was on a similar page and I was offered the opportunity to contribute to an upcoming t-shirt order. The contributions sold well, and I was invited to contribute further. Over the ensuing 10 months, I’ve become responsible for buying and redefining the majority of the stock.
The shirt selection is carefully curated. You mentioned no bootlegs, knockoffs or racist imagery. What else sets your t-shirt selection apart from other shops?
Our shirts are all officially licensed — sourced directly from either record labels, bands or legitimate vendors who legally act accordingly with the artists. This is intentional as we’re such music enthusiasts we want the musicians to get their proper financial due.
I’m very selective with what I bring in, adhering to a purely aesthetic criteria, though I intentionally avoid any and all acts bearing racist/sexist imagery and sentiments as well as bootlegs/cheap reproductions of any kind. The merchandise must have integrity otherwise it’s not worth it, very quickly people won't take us, or the product, seriously.
There are a lot of equally great t-shirt shops in the area that we happily endorse, from Ted’s Formal Wear, Trash and Vaudeville, Search And Destroy, and I Need More, to vintage stalwarts Metropolis, Beacon’s Closet, Screaming Mimi's, and L Train Vintage.
Each one has its own unique personality, its own vibe and we just enjoy being part of the community ... though I suppose City Fun is as much informed by our record/film/book collections as by our friends, families, and the crazy/beautiful world around us. I hope that variety is evinced in the stock.
What’s the best-selling t-shirt in the shop?
Our best-selling shirts so far have been Blondie’s “Bonzai,” David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel,” Prince’s “White Rose” graphic and the Tuff Gong record label logo shirt. However, since we’ve been effectively rebranding the shop since July 2018 our client base has been predominantly word-of-mouth and still evolving. One week we’ll sell out of a Tom Tom Club piece and the next week we’ll sell out of our Outkast shirts.
What was your first rock concert? What was your first rock concert t-shirt purchase? How about your most-prized one?
My first rock concert was Chris Harford & The First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, Juliana Hatfield, and Therapy?, in that order, at CBGB spring 1993. I wanted to go the Monsters Of Rock concert at Nassau Coliseum in 1986, alas, my parents thought 11 was too young to witness Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard and Motorhead firsthand.
My first music shirt was a Pale Blue Iron Maiden “Somewhere in Time” shirt from Long Island’s Tri-County Flea Market in 1986. Unfortunately I haven’t had that shirt for many years now. My most-prized one is a vintage Suicidal Tendencies shirt that my friend Hide gifted me from Japan.
What’s next for City Fun?
We've started buying vintage music/graphic tees as well as second-hand vinyl records and plan to have an equally curated selection to complement our regular stock. We may also get some plants.
The underlying/overriding objective for us is to create an environment that is uniformly inclusive, encouraging, and welcoming to people of all tastes to immerse yourself in the beauty of shapes, colors, and material and perhaps inspire dialogues, whether artistically, socially or internally.
You can keep up with the shop on Instagram.
Find previous A Visit To features here.