Admittedly, if you haven’t already been there, Raygun can be a little hard to find. To be clear, its formal address is 103 E. College Street, though when you’re actually there in the flesh, that address translates roughly to: entering through the giant, heavy, glass doors (directly across the pedestrian mall from the new frozen yogurt place), going up the steps, and taking a sharp left in the hallway. Take a right, and you’ll end up in an attorneys’ office where you probably won’t find many tee- shirts. But hey, you never know.
Now that you’ve successfully made it inside, pat yourself on the back and take a look around. More often than not, you’ll be happily greeted by manager, Brett Depue. The sandy haired California native has worked at the store since its opening almost two years ago. After the success of the original Raygun location (opened in Des Moines in 2005), owner Mike Draper and his team decided to expand the business.
Why Iowa City? DePue explains, “We knew that if we opened a second store, we’d want it to be somewhere in Iowa…Iowa City not only had the school, but we were able to get the retail space we wanted, so it all fell into place.” Though the entrance may be hard to find, space in the IC pedestrian mall is a hot commodity; the paved stretch of boutiques, restaurants and bars has some of the most foot traffic of anywhere in town.
They wanted space, and space is what they got. The store is bigger than you might think, stretching from its large display windows at the edge of pedestrian mall to the back of the building, butting up close to its’ backyard neighbors, HotHouse Yoga, and a mildly creepy alleyway. As of late, the display windows show mannequins modeling the store’s “Kiss me, I’m Iowish” shirts (in green, naturally), an annual favorite for St. Patrick’s day.
Behind the mannequins are racks of tee shirts, and a light sprinkling of hoodies, button-downs, jeans, and an ever changing inventory of small knickknacks. In any given week, you can find anything from Bud Light beer buckles, to assemble yourself film cameras, to mustache wine bottle openers, to a selection of quirky books and novels.
After you’ve finally decided between the Bud Light buckle or PBR buckle (Bud Light won out in the end), take a look at the rest of the store. Towards the back is the women’s apparel, which occupies a majority of the floor space. Shirts, dresses, purses, jewelry, (and tee-shirts, or course) are displayed in sleek hanging racks and simple white shelves bordering the walls.
Finally, you wander to the very back of the store and see the tee shirt printing press, with screens and inks at the ready. Raygun prides itself on screen printing the vast majority of their tee-shirts with original designs and slogans. ‘Iowa City: All our creativity went into the name’, ‘I found this shirt on Pintrest’, ‘I’m not a player, I just blog a lot’, and other ironic (and oftentimes sarcastic, always funny) phrases are a regular Raygun staple, created and printed by Raygun team members themselves.
“Almost everything we sell is printed in Des Moines. The press in Iowa City is used for special events. We specialize in t-shirts, but also print our own posters, as well as make and print our own small notebooks. Postcards we send away to be printed on a digital press,” says DePue.
The unique aspects of the store go beyond the merchandise, however. “We’d like to think of the company and the store as a work in progress,” he continued. “Both stores are meant to look rough and kind of unfinished, to give a little more of an industrial feel, and also to reinforce the idea that we’re a little more of a print shop than just a clothing store.”
Something else that makes Raygun ‘more than just a clothing store’ is that it also helps out the IC art community. As you are walking around, besides the clothes and accessories, you will also notice different artwork displayed (some a little more unconventional than others), which perhaps unsurprisingly, also changes about as often as the merchandise. Raygun offers local artists the chance to reserve a night to hold an art show for the public- for no charge.
To set it up just talk to Brett, pick a day, and go in to display your art. In shows past, artists have invited all of their friends and family down to Raygun (after hours, usually) to enjoy some snacks and beverages (alcoholic, if you so choose), while perusing the store and admiring the artwork, as well as the other merchandise; everyone wins.
And though Raygun is unique in a lot of ways, DePue says that Raygun still does have a lot in common with its’ surrounding retailers. After all, fashion trends are everywhere. “We try and complement ther boutiques in Iowa City, but also nationally…We try and fill a niche of solid colors and prints as a way to compliment the more vintage-inspired stuff at Revival, White Rabbit, or Ragstock.”
When asked what’s in store for Raygun in the future, DePue says that opening a third store is not totally out of the picture. “Right now we’re focusing on not only tightening our product line, but expanding on our strengths in store – so we’re working on writing a book this year, rolling out more posters and prints, etc. We’re also looking to expand the store in Des Moines [by] moving into a larger space, and later expand the Iowa City store. For a third store, that may be in the fall of 2012. The cities in the running are Omaha, Kansas City, Sioux Falls, Quad Cities, and Milwaukee.”
Check it out Monday-Saturday, 11am-7pm in store, or anytime at raygunsite.com.