It’s news to absolutely no one that Philadelphia is a historic gem — a fact proven by those unmistakable blue signs staked next to landmarks across the city.
Jim Adair, a 30-year-old Italian Market resident, loves those markers. In just a few words, they connect him with the history forged right in his own backyard. Adair’s favorite is the one outside the ACME at 11th and Passyunk, reminding passersby that the grocery store’s building once housed a prison.
A few months ago, Adair found himself wondering: What about all the cool stuff historic markers don’t commemorate?
Like Jason Kelce’s Super Bowl LII victory speech, or the time rogue perpetrators went nuts on an innocent hitchhiking robot? These are the kinds of things that help make modern Philly unique, he thought, and surely they should be documented somehow.
Who better to do it than him? With a friend, Adair operates a small company called Stepover Tees, so he created a dozen designs that turned those moments into wearable versions of made-up historical markers.
“I love that history, but there’s so much pop culture, so much more recent history that would never be recognized by any kind of official body,” Adair told Billy Penn. “I thought it would be cool to do that.”
The shirts went on sale last Friday, and so far they’re selling like crazy.
Some of the stories on the shirts are pretty great — like the one about former Mayor Michael Nutter’s big part in the Hollywood movie Law Abiding Citizen, or that time Kanye West and Kim Kardashian dined at a Center City Wendy’s. There’s one recognizing the early Kim Cattrall movie Mannequin, and another for Chase Utley’s profane pronouncement after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series.
Adair’s not the first Philadelphian to put a creative spin on the traditional blue poles. In November, a West Philly resident made up a bunch of markers commemorating local businesses on Baltimore Avenue. A year and a half earlier, sticker-versions of them started popping up in South Philly, telling Philadelphia’s small moments like breakups and tree-huggings.
So what inspired Adair to turn these moments into tees? It’s simple: He wanted one for himself.
“It’s an idea that started because it was just something I wanted to wear,” Adair said. “With the Mayor Nutter one, we have sold one so far, and it was to me.”
In the handful of days since they were released, Stepover has sold about 50 shirts. Top-seller? The one dedicated to Philly’s iconic Citywide Special.
To pay the bills, Adair works in medical publishing — he just mocks up t-shirts online for fun.
He started Stepover with a friend two years ago, making funny Sixers gear in addition to their own Sixers podcast. In the time since, Adair said that subject matter got a little tired.
“With the Sixers actually being good now, it’s hard to have dumb jokes that are fun about them,” he said. So he expanded his merch offerings to anything and everything Philadelphia.
The stakes are low for Adair — since he doesn’t depend on the t-shirt game for business, he doesn’t mind if the merch sells slowly. But if people buy a bunch, he’ll expand the line.
“Our main goal, we do it because we find it fun and funny,” Adair added. “We don’t really care if people buy any of these things. I do it because it makes me laugh.”