If Tony Madalone gets his way, the Fresh Brewed Tees founder and CEO will soon be peddling Josh Cribbs T-shirts from his truck like so many Dim and Den Sum PBLT sandwiches.
This month, Madalone's 3-year-old Cleveland T-shirt company will unveil a retail truck inspired by the city's successful food truck scene.
"I was looking at retail stores downtown, and I decided I wanted to do something a little different," says Madalone, who had a holiday-season store at SouthPark Mall this year but was reluctant to follow CLE Clothing Co.'s lead and open a permanent retail location downtown. "Cleveland foot traffic is not always great. [I thought] it'd be cool to start a food truck, but for apparel."
His plans include a potential Red Bull sponsorship and a partnership with Cleveland's Wireless Zone that would turn the truck into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. Madalone is even considering truck-exclusive products.
However, the city currently prohibits retail sales from trucks unless the product is food. Madalone hopes city leaders will grant his idea a trial period much as they did for food trucks in 2011.
He has enlisted the help of Ward 3 councilman Joe Cimperman, who says the city's main concern is that allowing such ventures would open the door for unchecked retail sales on Cleveland streets. (The city currently allows game day vendors to set up shop on sidewalks and sell apparel or packaged peanuts for a $185 annual license.)
At press time, Cimperman said he planned to introduce the matter to council in December with the hopes of clearing the way for Madalone's truck to hit the streets freely during the first quarter of 2013.
"We went through this whole rigmarole with the food trucks," says Cimperman. "What [Madalone] has is really unique and cool, and I think people would buy it. We are going to do whatever we can to help him."
Madalone can currently park his truck on surface lots and sell his shirts, but he says even lot owners who allow such arrangements routinely charge hundreds of dollars a year per site. Still, his mobile retail idea won't be possible without the city's endorsement.
"They gave [the food trucks] time to try it out," Madalone says. "It was great, so they legalized it. I would hope the same would be true for us."