So, the missus and I were watching a Blackhawks game, and we saw a fan wearing a T-shirt with a combo Bulls-Hawks logo: the angry bull with the colorful Hawks feathers. It seemed perfect for a time when the scrappy Bulls and the high-achieving Hawks were making their playoff runs.
We had to have this T-shirt, so Margaret tracked down the vendor and placed an order. This was a few weeks ago, and nothing showed up. Follow-up calls revealed the T-shirts were sent to a former address, but all is straightened out now. We also learned that the vendor was pretty much a one-man operation, a guy who designs and hawks the shirts. When I discovered he had a 630 area code, the editor's light snapped on. "Hey, this might be a suburban guy, a local entrepreneur we might want to write about."
Turns out Joe Sienkiewicz is a working stiff from Carol Stream who drives a truck by day and designs Chicago sports-related T-shirts in his spare time, selling them through chicagosportsshirts.com.
Sienkiewicz got into the business quite by accident, creating for laughs a Cubs fan's "crying towel" that chronicled some of the franchise's legendary foibles. Someone suggested turning it into a T-shirt. He made 100 of them, carted them over to U.S. Cellular park, sold 'em to Sox fans and "made $700 in two days." I'm getting a bit ahead of the story, which will be written in the upcoming days by business writer extraordinaire Kim Mikus.
We've been writing such stories for as long as I can remember, but they underscore what we're trying to do with our Business section these days.
As Editor John Lampinen noted a few weeks ago, a readership survey taken last year suggests there is widespread interest in business stories, particularly those about local businesses. He noted that a basic story about a single store opening can land in our top 10 most-read online stories.
So, we've renewed our efforts to emphasize the local in our Business section, and it's fairly amazing how much of what our local beat reporters do can be characterized as business news. A great example can be found in Friday's paper. At the top of Business front was a story from our business editor, Rich Klicki, about the top places to work in Illinois, a ranking that we compiled for our suburban business journal, the Daily Herald Business Ledger. We also honored 60 business gaining that distinction at a banquet in Rolling Meadows.
Except for some national briefs, the rest of that page was locally driven: a piece by Huntley reporter Lenore Adkins following up on the unsuccessful attempt by Centegra Health System to thwart the merger of Sherman and Advocate health systems, a tiff that underscores the incredibly competitive nature of the health care field. Also appearing was a story by Kane County government writer Jim Fuller on a company considering building in the county a plant that creates "biochar" -- a cleaner-burning version of coal -- from municipal waste.
It's worth noting that good business stories are not confined to the Business section; Fuller also contributed a Friday Page 1 "centerpiece" on the 50th anniversary of Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, an unheard of dinner-theater concept that sounded better-suited for Las Vegas when it was plunked amid the sprawling farms and cornfields on the fringes of the city, but a place that has survived and even flourished by sticking to its roots.
So, if it's a thoughtful essay on a local icon like Pheasant Run or an item about Mickey Finn's moving down the street in Libertyville, that's what seems to matter to readers in their day-to-day lives.
And that's what matters to us.