When I moved to Kansas City, the vibe was self-deprecating.
The young locals couldn’t wait to get out of the Cowtown known for jazz and barbecue. And newcomers would get the question: “You want to live here?”
There were some believers. Local love boomed a little in 2003 — Birdies and the remix of the West 18th Street Fashion Show, the arrival of Matt and Emily Baldwin with Standard Style, the early streetwear trendsetters Lovely and Sikenomics.
But it would take about 10 more years for it to become commonplace to see the likes of Olivia Wilde in a Baldwin KC hat, for the Big Slickers Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis to make the KC heart tee by Charlie Hustle iconic and for our city to get its long overdue recognition as a sports epicenter, an arts hub and a foodie destination well beyond barbecue.
Now, even posh places like West Elm carry local makers like Easy, Tiger and Axel Co. Halls often does pop-ups featuring local artists. Hallmark’s HMK boutique has made a big push to carry items that celebrate the city: jewelry, candles, artwork, housewares and even onesies in the name of our great city.
Finally, we get it: Kansas City is the place to be. And we wear our pride with cool confidence, most often scrawled across our shirts and regally on our hats like crowns on our heads. For tees and caps, the Bunker was our first mainstay. The list has grown to include Baldwin, Raygun, Normal Human and Chris Harrington’s Westside Storey. Over the weekend, Chris and two partners opened the boutique Made in KC inside Prairiefire’s Threshing Bee.
“There is an aim to support that local maker and build relationships,” says Leslie Anderson, HMK manager. “I think it really stems from wanting to really connect with the community. … And in my personal opinion, the Royals reminded us that there is greatness within us.”
Even on a Thursday at Westside Storey, 17th and Summit, when the doors open at 11 a.m. the shop is bustling. A guy walks in and immediately notices the buffet table of Charlie Hustle tees. His wife just bought her first KC heart tee by the brand, he says.
Chris says this has been the new normal since October, when the Royals upgraded the entire city and cemented our pride. Chris, 30, grew up in south Overland Park. Back then, it was commonplace to want to get away. To shrug off the Kansas. He didn’t get a strong sense of hometown love until he went to school at the University of Arizona, for a little while. “A melting pot of people,” he calls it.
“You learn so much, and everyone wants to represent where they come from. There were so many people from northern California and southern California, and they treat it like two different states, they are so proud. They called me Kansas Chris, and I talked slow with my accent and it made me really want to represent the city.”
He would come home in his early 20s and work with his dad roofing, but his desire to push the city to the forefront only grew. Chris liked the West Side, the organic energy that lives there, and he wanted to add to the experience. So he opened his store over two years ago with a desire to showcase local talent and tell the story of our city through goods.
Westside Storey is not flashy and pretty. It’s warm, welcoming and a little weird. Despite a store full of new designs from area brands like Sock 101, Ocean & Sea and Bellboy, it’s like an antique museum — a carefully curated reflection of Kansas City.
“In the dying world of retail when people are shopping online, you can’t just have a store. You have to have an experience. You have to tell a story,” he says. “Millennials are at that age where we are coming into economic power and we have two kinds of buys: justice buys like Toms where we give back and local buys for the community. We are willing to pay a premium price to support our city, our story.”
When choosing what to carry, he looks for more than the cool factor. Chris looks for brands that people can connect to, things that make you feel something and become the go-to pieces in your closet.
He credits his friendship with Chase McAnulty, Mr. Charlie Hustle himself, for helping make his vision a reality when he opened Westside Storey. There, you can find one of the largest and varied Charlie Hustle collections in the area.
“Chris is not only one of the most authentic people you will meet, but he has a visual understanding of how to take something and make it extraordinary,” Chase says. “His passion for the classic and love for people is what makes him successful. There’s very few people that can do what he does and see what he sees. His vision has manifested itself into this collection of goods that the local market has embraced and it’s a treat that he is able to share that with Kansas City.”
And Overland Park, too. In a partnership with friends Tyler Enders and Thomas McIntyre, he opened Made in KC on the first floor of Threshing Bee, 5501 W. 135th St. in Overland Park. Where Westside Storey has a thrift shop swag, Made in KC is more of an uptown arts studio. There’s a ladder of Happy Habitat blankets, bookshelves filled with local tees and jewelry stands featuring Jennifer Janesko and Lily Dawson.
Tyler, 26, grew up in Leawood, and Thomas, 27, is from Prairie Village. The two were doing pop-up shops featuring products made in Kansas City. A lot of people travel into KC to get the best of local brands; the Made in KC pop-up shops at Prairiefire brought the brands to the burbs. As the duo got the opportunity to make the pop-up permanent, Tyler says it made sense to talk to Chris.
“Chris is one of the most influential people in Kansas City building a niche market for local makers,” Tyler says. “He’s been willing to create a platform and make it more viable for people to support local goods. It’s a good fit.”
For Chris, who grew up just a stone’s throw from Prairiefire, the experience is surreal.
“I grew up out there when there was nothing, not even a Hen House. It was literally prairie. Out there, where it feels impossible to achieve the eccentricity of a Seattle or Brooklyn, Prairiefire is really cool. Kansas City has always been a secondhand city, six months behind the coasts — always later to the game. But when it comes to supporting local, we are ahead.”
Kansas City pride. On both sides of the state line.