The T-shirts — available in six mod and vintage styles in predictable black, white, and Geno’s orange (that’s Pantone 165 for those of us who keep up with these things) — are just way too boxy and err on the side of plain. The hoodies are basic and blanket-soft, as all hoodies are.
The rest of the merchandise — baseball caps, coffee mugs, key chains, baby bibs, tote bags, and shot glasses — are kitschy at its home good’s best.
But that doesn’t mean Geno’s Gear isn’t a delightful shopping destination and quite the genius marketing idea. At a time when traditional shopping malls and specialty stores are closing by the dozens, Geno’s Gear offers locals and out-of-towners what few other clothing retailers can: a true Philadelphia experience.
“People were always saying, ‘Why don’t you open a store?’ ” said Geno Vento, 45, the son of the late Joey Vento and heir to the 51-year-old Geno’s Steaks dynasty. “People wanted something to take back to their hometown. We decided to become the Hard Rock Cafe of cheesesteaks.”
In November, Vento started to transform the former Sam’s Battery Shop-turned-Joey Vento motorcycle showroom across the street into a slick store. Vento spent a couple of hundred thousand dollars building glass cases and installing hardwood-tiled flooring. He topped it all off with a ceiling featuring a blown-up map of the intersection of Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue. Most of the furniture and finishes are splashed the bold Geno’s orange, the steak shop’s signature color since a Food Network executive suggested it to Geno’s about 15 years ago.
“They told us this particular shade of orange made people hungry,” Vento said, laughing. “Maybe this explains why I like Whiz so much.”
Vento contracts with Spike’s Trophies, a memorabilia-making company in the Northeast, to stock Geno’s Gear, whose retail prices range from $4 for a key chain to $30 for a hoodie.
Shot glasses and mugs are made in Pennsylvania, says Amanda Schaffer, Spike’s Trophies sales liaison. T-shirts, she said, are manufactured overseas — a shirt had a tag that read “assembled in Nicaragua of U.S. components” — they’re screen printed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Next month, Vento says, Geno’s hot sauce will be added to the list of exclusive items at Geno’s Gear.
There is, however, one special Geno-centric item that isn’t for sale: Joey Vento’s custom Harley-Davidson motorcycle, complete with the original Geno’s Steak building airbrushed on the gas tank.
Vento estimates that about 90 percent of Geno’s Gear customers will be tourists. During his first weekend in business, customers came from Texas and Chicago as well as Australia and France.
What would the infamous Joey Vento say about the prospect of his son’s making a pretty penny selling Geno’s doodads to out-of-towners, many of whom — gasp — may not speak English?
“We serve everybody,” Vento said with a sigh, referring to the sign his father once had hanging that demanded that customers when ordering speak English. Vento removed his dad’s salty sign last year. “I just want to give people a taste of Philly and a welcoming experience.”
And, frankly, that’s way more fashionable than an athleisure-friendly fitted T-shirt.
Geno’s Gear is at 1223 E. Passyunk Ave.