Attention Giant Food, CVS, and Walgreens: Your generic “Arlington, Virginia” shirts are about to have some serious competition. Local news publication ARLnow launched a standalone merchandise shop on Sunday, and some of the offerings capture the joy and pathos of life in the largest unincorporated city in the United States.
ARLnow previously sold merchandise on Amazon, and Scott Brodbeck, who owns ARLnow’s parent company Local News Now, tells Washingtonian that the surprising audience for its “Gondola Now!” T-shirt convinced him that “there is a market out there for people who want some novelty local shirts.”
So among the new site’s more sedate offerings like ARLnow mugs, hats that feature the county’s shape, and “ARL” hoodies are designs that refer to the orderly jurisdiction’s secretly chaotic side: The “Clarendon Cheesecake Factory Riot” of 2018, for instance (still ARLnow’s best-read story of all time), and a brand new design that designates the county as “Gondola Country” due to the curiously persistent proposal to string cable cars between Rosslyn and Georgetown.
And then there are the brown flip-flops, the footwear most associated with Arlington (and especially the Clarendon—or if you prefer, “the Clizzledizzle”—neighborhood) thanks to Remy Munasifi’s 14-year-old vintage viral video “Arlington: The Rap.” I asked Brodbeck if the flip-flops were too much of a deep cut for newer residents. “At least for people my age, the older millennial crowd,” Brodbeck says, “there’s no lack of recognition about the brown flip-flop situation.” Indeed, this reporter, who attended high school in Arlington, noticed during the interview that he was wearing a pair. “I also am guilty of wearing brown flip-flops in summer,” Brodbeck said.
Brodbeck engineered some of ARLnow’s merch by messing around on a service that he says offers lots of “hokey” designs that he can “minimally edit to be relevant to Arlington.” The “Gondola Country” shirt, for instance, incorporates not just images of gondola cars but also the Air Force Memorial near the Pentagon. Other designs come courtesy of a design firm that the company uses for ads. The Cheesecake Factory riot shirt was inspired by the German band Atari Teenage Riot, he notes.
New stuff is in the works: A South Arlington design, another featuring flipped cars, and a design that actually nods to two moments in “Arlington: The Rap”:
Brodbeck says he considered a design that incorporated Amazon’s “smile” but decided he didn’t want to mess with a gigantic corporation that recently set up shop in Crystal City. “I don’t want to upset our neighbors down there,” he says.
There are no plans to expand the shop to Local News Now’s other sites in Fairfax, Reston, and Alexandria. Not that those jurisdictions aren’t funny, Brodbeck says, but setting up this site was a bit more work than he expected—”collecting sales tax and all that is not something I originally envisioned doing when I started a local news site”—so he’ll wait to see how the Arlington merch moves. The new shop has had more than a dozen orders since ARLnow announced it last night, which he says feels promising.
There may even be an audience for this gear outside the county. I mentioned to Brodbeck that when I was in Europe recently, I saw lots of people wearing shirts with the names of obscure US towns and US colleges and universities with small student bodies. “I feel like that ‘Gondola Country’ shirt would be perfect in Germany,” he says. “So you know, if there are any Germans reading this who want to get some cool Arlington gear? You will stand out for sure.”