Keep Going - an Outdoor Adventure

We hit the road in our Sprinter van to get away and get inspired. Follow our YouTube channel and get ready for some cool outdoor designs dropping soon!

Who’s haunting your house harder right now? You? Or actual ghosts? They’re probably annoyed that you’re doing their job better than them. You know, moaning, wandering the halls, moving things around in the kitchen with no particular purpose... there’s no actual reason for this question, just wanted to make a funny observation........

Funny how things happening around you can change your perspective on stuff like... say... an alien abduction.  2019- "Probably rather not..." 2020- "Probably, why not!?"

When you want to be honest but don’t want to sound like a big downer, although you’re carrying the weight of the world

Okay so I guess I’ve shelled up a bit the past few weeks. I definitely had a million thoughts flying around and wrote some things that will never see the light of day, but I want to keep you all informed. It’s hard to talk about where we are as a little brand when there’s so many other bigger things happening in the world but I just want to take the time to get all this down so you guys can follow along. This post isn’t a commentary on those issues, but just a peek into our lil world and how we’ve been navigating these tumultuous waters. I would much rather be communicating when things are awesome, and they usually are, but I know we need to be straightforward during weird times too.

As a recap, when the pandemic started we decided to take things head-on and design and work our way through it. We came up with a ton of designs and you guys came through for us big-time. Our online sales were incredible and kept us afloat even though our store sales dropped to zero. We worked through all the employment issues, and trying to get forgivable loans and all that jazz. It was frustrating paying for retail space when we knew it would be a total loss but we didn’t want to lose all the years of work we had put in to get to that point. So we decided to keep the store and take the temporary loss. We were just about a month into the shutdown when we found out that someone sued our landlord over ADA compliance issues and that the costs of that get passed down to us. Talk about salt in the wound! There’s a lot of stuff to unravel with these lawsuits but basically if you have a business in California and you get hit with a suit like this you’re going to lose money no matter what. The timing of this was just the worst, but we just pressed on.  

Our store closure began to feel like forever, so we started reworking the store to get it ready for when we got a clear signal. We worked pretty hard on redesigning our floor plan to give extra space for shoppers and a contactless experience. We printed out QR codes and worked on integrating different apps so you could self-checkout. About a day after getting all that sorted out, we saw news from the CDC that the virus wasn’t really spreading from surfaces. So we scrapped that direction and just got back to the basics to get the store reopened.  

I had been away from Tina and the kids for a couple weeks at this point. We wanted to keep our employees paid, and not knowing how long this would go on, one of the quickest solutions was to give up our house in Venice. We were month-to-month there anyway so it was easy to bounce out. I drove them out to Iowa to stay with her parents and then flew back to LA to finish the store. 

Once the store was in a good place, I headed back to the Midwest to catch up with my family. My flight was scheduled into Minneapolis (of all places) right as everything was going down. I spent a few days with them in Iowa and during that short time my friends back in LA were texting me and offering to help protect the store. They took down all of our displays and moved everything to the back rooms to get them out of sight, undoing all the work we had just completed. We were closed again after a brief reopening. So I flew back into LA the night of the first curfew. It was set for 4pm and I arrived at 5pm. Tyler picked me up from the airport and we went straight to Home Depot. It looked like we were too late by the time we got there but we ended up getting the last 6 sheets of plywood. We saw the desperation on the faces of the other people trying to load up on plywood and we didn’t have the heart to leave them to load all of that by themselves. We helped a few other small business owners who were just trying to protect their livelihoods.  One guy had to get around 20 sheets of plywood because he owned a corner cafe with glass all around. He was by himself. 

We lost a lot of time at Home Depot and as we drove away I couldn’t help but compare and contrast big retailers vs small ones. The big stores stayed open the whole time and made better-than-usual sales while all these small shops with less capital to ride out situations like this are mandated to be closed. On top of that, the small shops now have to go spend a lot of money at the big stores just to protect their stuff that they can’t sell anyway.  We got to Abbot Kinney Blvd and almost every store was boarded up. There were only a few people out finishing the process but we were way behind. I was trying to weigh out if it was even worth the effort. Why protect something that has become a monthly loss to us? What if one of my employees or friends gets hurt during this process? How much insurance do we have? Why not confront people that are raiding stores instead of boarding up and running away? 

A group of friends met us there to help and that was a huge encouragement to me. We built a barrier to block the side entryway and covered all the windows. We had just invested a lot of time and money refacing the store so it felt sickening drilling large holes all over it. It was getting late and we were the only civilians still out. As we worked, the National Guard patrolled the street. I gave them a weird acknowledgement as they went by to make sure they knew we were trying to put boards up and not taking them down (even though we were putting up, taking them down, etc to get them to fit). The whole process was so surreal and I was at my wits end with retail. 

After that weekend I talked it over with my team and we decided to close the store. We were proud of what we accomplished with the store, turning a 30 day pop up into a permanent store for 3 years. We’re by far the smallest retailer on the street and to hold our own next to these big brands makes us proud. I sent my 30 day notice to our landlord and got to work planning our exit. About a week into selling everything that we could and prepping to close, we got an email from the landlord. He said they hated to see this situation cause us to lose the store and they lowered our rent considerably. It was a tough call, I had already accepted closing the store so to reconsider now felt like whiplash. I think it’s the community around Venice that makes us want to hang on a little longer. We’ve had so many neighbors and friends encourage us to keep going, so we decided to stay the course and keep the store open. After making the decision I told Tina that it felt like such a burden lifted to know we wouldn’t be taking a big loss there over the next while.  

The next morning I get a call from Tyler… “I think we were robbed”. Sure enough, a couple masked guys broke in and stole around $14k worth of stuff. I had to laugh, “Oh, I guess we can still take a loss there”.  If we can survive a global pandemic, store closures, a lawsuit, riots, and theft, then I think we can take on just about anything else (and I’m sure we’re about to find out just what that is).  

So that wraps up the gloomy stuff for now, but like a great t-shirt once said “Not Over til It’s Over”.

- Lemony Snicket (uh I mean Jared)

21 Responses

Ashwin

Ashwin

August 03, 2020

I’m so sorry to hear that, I had no idea- I have a small family business myself, in Studio City, and have been a longtime patron of your store. Currently I’m wearing one of your “Brush of the Dirt and Move On” shirts, and I feel as if it’s title is fitting. You have the full support of me and my family, and I hope we can help with some more clothing acquisitions….truly, your store on Abbott Kinney is the highlight of the boulevard. Stay strong

Erik

Erik

August 03, 2020

What a read. Really pulling for you guys. I remember coming into the pop up shop a few years back. I mentioned I was from the states and that we live in Calgary, and that we try to do Venice / SM around every Labor Day. Since then we’ve been back to the store several times and brought our girls with us. They love the shop too. I just ordered two shirts and a tote. Gonna do what I can from afar to keep supporting you guys. Do hang in there.

Emily

Emily

August 02, 2020

Thanks for sharing your story. I hope things will start looking up for you and all small businesses that are struggling right now. I love your designs and have enjoyed coming to your store. Hang in there!!

Robert Sonoma Wine Country

Robert Sonoma Wine Country

August 01, 2020

Dude, The “Weight of the world” T I just bought takes on a whole new meaning.
I’m a physician dealing with this in a different way but feel what the small business owners are having to navigate and contend with outweighs anything I have to deal with.
We’re in confluence of events that has pulled the curtain back and hopefully opened eyes, and Not to get political, exposed this country to the sham facade it waves it’s flag about.
Keep on keeping on brother.
You’re an inspiration!
Robert.

Michelle

Michelle

August 01, 2020

Love your products! Bought two more shirts after I read your story (so emailing is good marketing!). Also, I think you should keep your store. I am from Virginia and would not have known about you guys if I hadn’t been walking on Abbott- Kinney on a visit to LA. Thanks for your perseverance and hang in there.

Sarah

Sarah

August 01, 2020

In Chicago. It’s been crazy too…we just add a whole bunch of shootings every day, including kids.
My teenage son loves his Right On t-shirt (plz relay to artist). He gets questioned all the time on what it means. He’s quiet kid so interesting to hear him take the time to explain where the image came from - to check out the brand - you can order online which helps some really talented people get through all this sh*t. Know that my kid doesn’t talk to anyone so the fact that he talks about the brand is crazy. Well done you.

Jay

Jay

August 01, 2020

What a rollercoaster of a story (except the rollercoaster just kept going down and down and down…) I hope the ride ends soon and we can all head to the concession stand for a snack and relax.

Finally got around to buying the cassette tape I’d been eying for ages (in pink, of course.) I’ll be listening to it in my trusty old ‘96 Toyota which has had a flat tire since March. (Because why bother changing a tire when you’re not going anywhere, anyway?)

Hope the rest of this year goes better for you, and everybody.

John Webber

John Webber

August 01, 2020

You guys are amazing, and if you can make it through all that and still keep your head up, then I know we can all get through this shit together, Thanks for the hope and for sharing, Just placed another order to support you in a small way.

Alannah

Alannah

August 01, 2020

I literally just picked up my most recent order from my PO box (Weight of the World and Work to Death – Home Edition) – my 7th & 8th VDGN shirts, and I’m so sorry to read about what an exceptionally rough time y’all have had since March. I’m so glad you shared these details, though, because it’s important to know what a small business like yours is going through to try and stay afloat through all of this.

I just want to say that I own a ridiculous amount of t-shirts, so I have to be REALLY impressed with a design/company to buy any new ones. Considering that I just got another order from y’all, you are definitely doing something right. I love the fit, the quality, the aesthetics, the sentiment, and knowing that I am supporting your store through difficult times makes me really happy to keep buying from you.

I really hope things turn around for you – hang in there because we all love what you are doing!

Mark

Mark

August 01, 2020

I’m a neighbor, customer and fan. Please keep on keeping on, what you bring to our neighborhood is precious and often hilarious.

Erik Mohr

Erik Mohr

August 01, 2020

Thank you for posting this. I’m thinking of you guys all the time. Hoping you can stay the course. I love what you do. Stay creative! Big hugs from Canada.

Jean Breheney

Jean Breheney

July 31, 2020

Store owners can be a rare combo of leader, mover & shaker — and Jared, I think you’re all three, with a team of heroes to boot. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve done business with you online (your design and quality is always OUTSTANDING), and I will continue… but I look forward to the day when I can visit you all in Venice and shake your hands.

Jenny

Jenny

July 31, 2020

Sending you guys the biggest, socially distant hug and all the love from NJ! Keep shining your beautiful light! You, your brand, the creativity and integrity, and heart and soul of it all… is sooo needed in this crazy world. Especially now. May it carry you through to even better times ahead. You all deserve it! <3 <3

Barbara Fratta

Barbara Fratta

July 31, 2020

I’m in NY and it breaks my heart to see my favorite shops getting destroyed by greed and stupidity. I’ve bought many shirts for myself, family and friends from your Venice shop. My daughter lives in LA and Vdgn is always on my list. So sorry for what you’ve been through but I admire your attitude. Yes….I will continue to shop on line and follow your story. Best of luck 💕

Troy

Troy

July 31, 2020

Wow. We love you guys. So appreciate you taking the time to share this & let us in on what you’ve experienced and how you keep going, keep finding a way forward. It reflects the brand or should I say the brand reflects you—the whole VDGN crew. Those of us who support & represent the brand to others are excited to share your story & invite others to the VDGN experience. Thank you for pressing on & letting us in. It’s who you are but we still appreciate it. We appreciate you.

JORDAN S BETENSKY

JORDAN S BETENSKY

July 31, 2020

Wow. Don’t really even know what to say or where to start. I went to Venice Beach for my Birthday in July of 2019 with a couple of friends. We were walking up Abbot Kinney BLVD and noticed the Vardagen store. We all walked in and immediately felt an amazing vibe. Its hard to put into words, I wish I remember the girls name working (look at records) but she welcomed us like family. As we were trying shirts on and she noticed our excitement with the brand I think she felt we were trusted enough that she brought us into the back of the store to see the other merchandise that wasn’t on display. Needless to say we all left with bags full of clothes and to the day still continue to buy clothing. Jordan Betensky, Tareq Hafza, Frank Dimola are all names you probably see come across your orders to Fort Lauderdale, FL. We planned all year to go back to Venice and of course visit our favorite store. Unfortunately due to the Pandemic we didn’t make the trip this year. I’m not really sure why I’m telling you all this but something about your brand/store has left a lasting impact on us. We are also business owners and combined have about 50 employees. Reading the story I was waiting for the ending to bring some positive light on the tunnel you’ve been going through but the robber who went in and took 14k worth of merchandise was not what I was expecting to read. Anyway, as huge fans of your brand I really hope you guys continue to fight and stay open and keep dropping new merchandise that we all look forward to seeing.

- Jordan, Frank, Tareq

Josh

Josh

July 31, 2020

I am so sorry to hear about all of this. I only recently learned of VDGN, as I’m on the east coast, but I have to say, I own some of your shirts (plus the National crew support tee which is how I learned of you all), and they’re by far my favorite shirts I own. I’ve never been much of a brand loyalty person when it comes to clothes, but I’m up to three now and I’m going to go drop an order for another one or two in a few minutes. I hope things turn around, I’m looking forward to visiting the shop in Venice next time I can get out to Cali.

Mary Phillips

Mary Phillips

July 31, 2020

Talk about a roller coaster ride! I am so sorry for all of crap you’ve been through just to make life a little brighter for people. I miss the store in Fishers and drive by it several times a week. It will always be Vardagan no matter what happens to it. Wished you much success when you went out West and still do! Hopefully things will take a turn for the better😊

Alexx

Alexx

July 31, 2020

Reading this while I m wearing my favorite shirt from VDGN!!!
Sending positive vibes:)

Steve

Steve

July 31, 2020

Hey VDGN- what a letter. You are not alone. However you fight the fight, be proud! I’m just one customer, but I have 4 shirts and think I’m so cool because my first visit was the week you opened up. I used to travel to LA monthly for work, but the pandemic has ended that, so my last purchase (toilet paper thief) and next will have to be online from Atlanta.

We live in “the hood” here in Atlanta, and agitators have done a number on the homes and businesses here as we are located in between the Wendy’s you’ve seen in the news, and the police station from where those cops are based. I am a US Army veteran and have served to protect us from afar, but patrolling my own street to help the neighbors was quite an experience. Our ground level was destroyed, but we are repairing and we are safe. Our local shops were hit too, and they’re little guys without vandalism insurance.

2020 has been quite the year for all of us. It’s okay to share, even when we know there’s someone else out there hurting “worse”. I believe God redeems all he allows, and can’t wait to see how these pains turn into gains for the community and the country.

Amina

Amina

July 31, 2020

Thank you for sharing your story, and making sacrifices to bring us joy in the form of a dope shirt in a dark time

Leave a comment (all fields required)

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Search