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More people buying Hamilton swag for Christmas

Every year, more designers and entrepreneurs are tapping into a new niche market - the demand for merchandise with "Hamilton" on it.

'They don’t want it to be the Hamilton of old, which is seen as a joke'

The supply and demand of Hamilton-specific merchandise grows every year, says Dave Kuruc of Mixed Media. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Looking for Christmas gifts for the Hamilton resident in your life? Here are some ideas.

How about a screen print of the city that hangs on the wall, showing its major buildings as of 1958? 

Or how about an overhead map of your neighbourhood, or a Hamilton toque, or a YHM pillow for your couch, or a T-shirt that reads "Art is the New Steel?"

Every year, more Hamilton-centric gear pops up on the market, which creators say is a hallmark of increasing civic pride in Hamilton that didn’t exist 15 years ago.

Years ago, Hamiltonians didn’t always want to show that they were from Hamilton, says graphic designer Matt Jelly, who runs a growing business of hyper-local Hamilton gear. 

But as the city’s reputation and economic fortunes improve, so does the new niche market.

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      “People are feeling better about Hamilton," he said. "That’s why you’re seeing people feel less embarrassed to say they’re from Hamilton, and more anxious to say they are from here."

      “The outward perception of Hamilton has changed, and I think Hamiltonians themselves feel differently about the city.”

      In just two or three years, Hamilton gear has become fashionable. Much of it is centred around James Street North, an area increasingly known for its art galleries, boutiques and coffee shops. 

      Earlier this year, resident Donna Reid opened The Hamilton Store, selling exclusively Hamilton gear. Mixed Media has walls full of Hamilton prints, and every year, the demand grows, owner Dave Kuruc says.

      Even now, people say it’s hard to find nice-looking things that say Hamilton on it, but back then, there was nothing.- Dave Kuruc

      Hamilton native Tom Ratcliffe, an IT program manager by day, has started YHM Designs. He sells T-shirts bearing slogans such as “Keep calm and Argos suck” and “King & James & Main & Bay,” and tote bags with aerial views of the airport on them.

      Jelly, who runs the Jelly Brothers with his brother Dan, sells graphic prints of the City Motor Hotel sign, and buttons bearing the face of former mayor Bob Bratina. The Centre3 gallery on James North prints its own Hamilton clothing bearing slogans such as “Art is the new steel” and stylized depictions of the industrial area’s smoke-filled skyline.

      More entering the market every year

      In 2005, little Hamilton merchandise existed, said Kuruc. To find any, people had to go to local museum gift shops.

      “Even now, people say it’s hard to find nice-looking things that say Hamilton on it, but back then, there was nothing.”

      Every year, more people are buying Hamilton merchandise, Kuruc said. He attributes it to civic pride.

      “People are proud of where they’re from, and they see the city on a much different level,” he said. “They don’t want it to be the Hamilton of old, which is seen as a joke. They want to see Hamilton the ambitious city, or Hamilton, the head of the lake.”

      A woman came to our table and was looking at the maps, and said, "This is so great that you have Flamborough. We're so used to getting completely shut out of things."- Matt Jelly

      The best Hamilton merchandise, he said, is locally made, as well as “well designed, well thought out and genuine.”

      What kind of Hamilton merchandise sells

      Hamiltonians want something positive about their city — not boosterism, but not mockery either. The most tongue-in-cheek item in Kuruc’s shop is a print that reads “She said kiss me somewhere dirty so I took her to Hamilton.”

      It helps to have "some sort of humour that acknowledges our history," Jelly said. But "I would never put out a poster that says 'Hamilton is a sh*thole."

      Jelly's map making began three years ago, when he made a map for the Central Neighbourhood Association, of which he’s a member. Then he made maps of Beasley and the downtown.

      At first, he didn’t plan to make money from them. Then he got more and more requests. He and his brother sell them at local shows and festivals, and have branched to offer maps of Guelph, Toronto and Norfolk.

      Touches on amalgamation wounds 

      The draw is partly political, Jelly said. In a post-amalgamation Hamilton, the maps tap into a desire to show neighbourhood pride. Residents of Flamborough and Stoney Creek are usually thrilled to be able to buy something about their area.

      "The farther we go out, the more people are surprised to find their part of town," he said. "A woman came to our table and was looking at the maps, and said, 'This is so great that you have Flamborough. We're so used to getting completely shut out of things.'"

      What started out as a one-off has grown to “keep me and my brother employed for a good portion of the year,” Jelly said. “It’s one of the largest parts of our business.”

      Ratcliffe’s YHM Designs is “for fun on the side," he said. His sales are online only, and they’re modest, but he said he's fine with that.

      “Civic activism seems to be renewing itself,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”

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