Different kind of clothing store hits city

Subculture targeted by business

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comOctober 10, 2008 

In every generation there are those people that go against the norm.

They are not interested in the mainstream. They like being a little bit different and they seek out a kind of nonconformist conformity.

James Mason and Craig Tilman are hoping to capitalize on those types of individuals who happen to live in Los Baños.

Mason, 26, and Tilman, 47, opened Phantom Signal Clothing on Pacheco Boulevard in August. One look at the front of the business reveals it’s not your average clothing store. Life-size dolls — not the cute child-friendly type, the psycho ones — sit outside. The zombie that used to have their spot was deemed unsuitable for passers-by courtesy of the city’s code enforcement. He now resides inside the shop.

The spectacle prepares visitors for a store full of classic horror film T-shirts,clothing influenced by the alternative rock scene, body piercing accessories and products related to taking care of tattoos.

“There’s a lot of stuff that hasn’t been marketed here,” Mason said. “There isn’t anything like this around. I come across a lot of the counter-cultures and I can see there’s definitely a need for a clothing store here because they all have to go to San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno, whereever just to buy a T-shirt.”

Mason’s experience with the local counter-cultures largely comes from contact with Los Bañosans who frequent his tattoo parlor next to Phantom Signal. Mason appreciates being able to provide a service that, he said, was lacking in town.

“I just like bringing the culture to the kids,” said Mason, a native of the South. “For a lot of years growing up in the backwoods of Tennessee, a town even smaller than this, I had no access to stuff like this. I had to get out of the city. I just left. To know these kids may be in a similar situation that I was growing up, they can have some sub culture here. They can have some kind of scene.”

Tilman said he has received some flak about the clothing store from city officials and residents unsure of something coming to their town that’s different.

Tilman,who is a father of six, wants to clear up any misconceptions.

“Our biggest thing was right now with the economy being the way it is and how much gas is, we did not want moms to have to go drive. Keep it right here, shop local, we’ll give you what you want,” he said. “If you see something you like that’s great. If you don’t tell us what you want and we’ll get it.”

Tilman and Mason said their customers stretch across all demographic boundaries. They understand, however, that youth are largely the customer base that will sustain the business. The pair have tried to specifically gear their advertising toward the younger crowd, handing out fliers at Los Baños High School and advertising before the feature films at Premiere Cinemas.

Tilman said eventually he’d like to set up a stage in the parking lot of his business and invite local bands to perform on the weekends.

Mason believes Phantom Signal will be successful partly because of the current economic downturn.

“As history goes with recession and economic decline it sparks some kind of movement culturally,” Mason said. “When you look at the Great Depression and then there was World War II. Out of that came the greasers and then the rockabillies. In Vietnam, out of that came the hippies and the the punk rockers. So everytime the economy dumps people are still looking for more.”

Tilman wants to one day be able to have Phantom Signal Clothing in every small rural town in the area. He won’t consider the idea the store may fail.

“Honestly, we already looked at this store and said we’re about 300 quare-feet too small. We need to be bigger,” Tilman said. “We’re not thinking about going backward. We’re thinking about going forward.”

Enterprise staff writer Corey Pride can be reached at 388-6563 or cpride@losbanosenterprise.com

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