This viral NYC shop sold a thousand earthquake T-shirts in 21 hours

Just after a 4.8 magnitude earthquake shook the northeastern United States on Friday, Kerry Colley glanced at her graphic designer and said, “You think we can make this a T- shirt?

It took Colley and his team 15 minutes to make the shirt and hang it outside his custom clothing store on New York’s Upper West Side. Colley didn’t advertise it on social media and priced the shirt at $10, without expecting to make a significant profit, he says.

Soon, his store – a franchise store of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts and More – had 70 customers waiting in line for two hours, trying to get their hands on a gray, red and blue cotton “I Survived The NYC Earthquake” shirt that afternoon, Colley said. A customer told him the shirt had been viewed nearly 2 million times on social media platformhe adds.

The result: his highest-earning retail weekend ever, he says. The store sold about 1,000 seismic shirts over 21 hours Friday and Saturday, generating more than $9,800 in revenue, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. Colley estimates that 20% of these store sales are profits.

Colley — who opened the store in 2019 after leaving his job as an executive director at JPMorgan Chase, according to his LinkedIn profile — says he’s never experienced a weekend like this. The store has been so busy that its employees haven’t had time to come up with a tracking model, or a model for Monday’s solar eclipse.

Tourists came because their friends had seen videos of his store on local news channels in Italy, Colley said.

A “semi-retirement” job that became a full-time job

Before Colley opened the doors to his T-shirt store, he spent two and a half decades working in the banking industry. After about 12 years at JPMorgan Chase, he felt burned out and a business coach advised him to pursue entrepreneurship, he says.

He then met with a franchise specialist who presented him with some ideas. Collie landed on Big Frog, who more than 75 locations in the United States, in part because the company’s owners told him they didn’t know how to market a store in New York — which meant he had some leeway to run it at his way, he said.

The store is run by Colley and her husband Joshua Drumm, who helps out. Colley runs the ship, with three full-time and three part-time employees. He works 60 hours a week and most of the store’s revenue comes from business-to-business or local events, he said.

It was supposed to be a “semi-retirement” job, but now he’s working more hours and making less income – it’s worth it, Colley says.

“I’ve learned more in the last five years than I could have ever imagined. I’ll never go back,” he says. “There’s a pure joy in that experience. That’s why I loved this franchise… You’re creative, you work with all kinds of different people.”

His store began selling its earthquake T-shirt online on Sunday, after seeing copycats advertising nearly identical versions. The hype is waning, but the store still generated about $1,600 in online sales as of Monday night, he says.

The shirts are still $10 each, less than the standard Big Frog shirt by $30. Colley says he has no plans to raise the price.

“We weren’t looking to make a million dollars,” he says. “We weren’t looking for anything at all. It’s just fun.”

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