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Gillespie's Glory Day 

Homer thief hailed as hero in new T-shirt design

JD Harris would like to make it clear that he doesn't want you to steal from Charlotte's most esteemed sports institutions. That being said, if you do, you might make it onto one of Harris' Glory Days T-shirts.

Last year, Harris' Glory Days Apparel released its Selwyn Avenue Golf Cart Valet T-shirt, which refers to an infamous story from 2015 in which two men apparently got bored at the Wells Fargo Championship, stole a golf cart from Quail Hollow Country Club, then drove it five miles from the golf course to the Selwyn Avenue Pub.

Today, Glory Days is following up that popular design with the release of a shirt that pays homage to another one of Charlotte's more infamous sports-related drunken capers, the Homer theft.

Homertown Hero is a design inspired by Joe Gillespie, whose story went viral after Creative Loafing told it in the Best of Charlotte 2015 issue. Long story short (but go read the long story), Joe woke up in a drunken stupor following a beer festival at BB&T Ballpark one September day that year only to find himself behind the scenes in the empty stadium. While looking for an exit, he stumbled across the costume of Charlotte Knights' mascot Homer, and threw it on without missing a beat.

Gillespie partied as Homer throughout Uptown into the early morning hours, but was eventually picked up by the police at his Indian Trail home the next day. Nevertheless, his hilarious retelling of the story in CL hit a nerve and got picked up throughout the country and even in the UK's Daily Mail.

Today, Gillespie's legend in this town is further cemented by the release of Homertown Hero, a Glory Days T-shirt designed by Harris and local graphic designer Robert Wildermuth that depicts Gillespie in all his mulleted glory: beer in one hand, Homer's head in the other, and dressed partially as the mascot while dodging police officers.

It's an idea Harris had brewing in the back of his mind for nearly a year, and he's chosen the week of Opening Knight to finally make the release. While Harris is as big a fan of Charlotte's fun-loving-criminal folklore as you'll find, he emphasizes that he doesn't want to see "I'm gonna get on a Glory Days T-shirt!" become a drunken expression that leads to another arrest.

"That's where you have to put the Jackass disclaimer up before the show starts," Harris says, laughing. "We're not encouraging you to do something to get your way onto a shirt. There are other good ways to get on a Glory Days T-shirt."

Harris became aware of Gillespie's story through CL's now-famous and oft-quoted Q&A with him in 2015. Harris Facebook-friended Gillespie shortly thereafter but didn't meet him until two months ago when he finally decided to put his Homertown T-shirt plan into action. He had some concerns that maybe Gillespie, who's currently serving 18 months of probation for his Homer hijinks, had put it all behind him and wouldn't want any part of the shirt.

But that's not the Joe that Creative Loafing knows.

"I thought it had to have been destiny," Gillespie says of the call he got from Harris. "Because about a month prior to when he had actually reached out to me, I told my girlfriend, I was like, 'I think I'm growing the mullet back,' which she wasn't real thrilled about. He hit me up about a month later. I was like, 'Ahhh, definitely man, I'm down 100 percent."

Just to give her a chance to explain, we reached out to Kristi Drake, Gillespie's girlfriend, to see if she's really against the hairdo seen 'round the world. When she answered our inquiry by text, she seemed to be coming around.

"Thankfully I love him, so mullet or not I'm super excited about the shirt, and if anyone is going to rock a mullet.. it's him!" she wrote. "As it's getting more 'luscious,' as he would say, it's growing on me."

click to enlarge [From left] Kristi Drake, Joe Gillespie, JD Harris and Robert Wildermuth.
  • [From left] Kristi Drake, Joe Gillespie, JD Harris and Robert Wildermuth.

Gillespie and Drake met with Harris and Wildermuth to check out the original sketches and give their input, and Gillespie later met up with Harris at the scene of the crime to shoot some promo videos and pose for pictures with the tee, which he was able to keep.

Getting to meet Gillespie finally made Harris all the more proud of Glory Days' newest design.

"I kind of just wanted to know who Joe was, because I want to make this more than a shirt; I wanted to make this part of the urban legend," Harris says. "One of the reasons I was so blown away when I met him, he's just one of the most easygoing, friendly guys. He definitely didn't mean any harm by what he did. It was a decision that got him in some trouble, but he definitely meant no harm by it. It was just fun. I got more excited about the project because of his personality."

Wildermuth was equally impressed after having a few beers with the infamous Homer thief. In fact, simply answering whether he had met Gillespie sent Wildermuth into a deep laugh, which is often the reaction of those recalling a night out with Joe.

"He really had nothing bad to say the whole time I was hanging out with him," Wildermuth says. "He's really cool with the whole situation. Even though he did get in trouble, you feel like he would do it again in a heartbeat."

Although there's always the prospect of some fun adventure jumping off when Gillespie is around, chances are he won't be committing any capers at BB&T again anytime soon. He's still a Knights fan, and has attended a couple of games since the incident in 2015, but he's not been able to speak with anyone from the organization to offer an official apology, despite reaching out multiple times.

Gillespie hopes the shirt can be another opportunity to shed light on the situation and help put any animosity between him and the real Homer to rest.

"I'm still trying. I want to extend my hand for peace," Gillespie says. "I'd love to put the water under the bridge, but there's only so much I can do. JB has definitely helped the cause a lot."

The Knights have not yet responded to requests for comment for this story.

Harris himself has not been in touch with anyone at the Knights organization, but he hopes to help mend things by offering a portion of the proceeds from the Homertown Hero shirt to Charlotte Knights Charities, which awards grants to organizations in the Charlotte area with the goal of advancing education, care and promoting recreational activities to disadvantaged and underprivileged adults and children, according to the Knights' website.

click to enlarge Joe Gillespie returns to the scene of the crime, rocking his new namesake tee.
  • Joe Gillespie returns to the scene of the crime, rocking his new namesake tee.

He hopes the shirt can help the Knights organization look back on the 2015 Homer theft incident with a "no harm, no foul" attitude.

"There's no denying that this is a part of Charlotte's history. People know it," Harris says. "I guarantee you couldn't tell me one person's name from the 2015 Knights roster, but you can tell me this story. And that's not knocking the Knights, it's just that people know this story.

"The donation is our way of saying that we're not trying to promote what he did," he adds, "but this is a way that maybe we can say, 'Hey, water under the bridge,' or to show that there's still some good to come of this situation.'

The Homertown Hero shirt fits well into the Glory Days roster, as it was Harris' goal for the vintage T-shirt company to release shirts that start a conversation. And those shirts don't just focus on Charlotte's mischievous miscreants, but also represent other Queen City interests, from hangouts and dives to sports teams and day drinking.

Harris, who is basically the entire staff of Glory Days (he calls himself a one-man shop), sells most of his shirts at pop-up events throughout the city, which lend themselves to the conversational topics on his tees.

"I would say where we see the biggest impact is when we're out and about doing pop-ups. I really think that's one of the strengths of the brand is — whether it's me or one of my friends out there with me doing events — I think our personality comes through in the brand," Harris says. "I think it's been one of the key points of success is that people take to it and appreciate it. I get blown away just talking to people, especially someone's who comes back and has been a fan and says, 'Oh, I love this shirt and tell me the story about this shirt,' or, 'I got the Dean's Dream Team shirt because I was born this year and that's my favorite team.'"

As with the aforementioned Dean's Dream Team shirt, which refers to the 1982 UNC Tar Heels men's basketball team, nostalgia also plays a large role in the Glory Days brand, especially with the sports-related gear.

Harris, who was named Best Dressed in his senior year of high school, grew up loving vintage T-shirts. In 2015, after nearly a decade in the local financial game, he decided he had to get out of the cubicle life and soon decided he would turn his passion for the nostalgic style into a brand.

"I was just so unhappy. The problem wasn't the company I was with, the problem was I just didn't belong in that world in general. I was always saying how I wanted to update my resume and find a new job," he says.

"I've just always had this nerdy appreciation and obsession with that vintage shirt or thrift-store T-shirt. There's been some companies back home in Ohio that have been successful in doing that look, and I've always admired what they do as far as really capturing the nostalgia and throwback."

The idea was right in front of him, but never truly struck him until he visited Kansas City for a wedding and saw a company there that was making shirts based on random things that only locals would truly know about.

"I thought, I really think Charlotte, there's so much history, so many people that love the city, there's so much there to be told and do," Harris recalls. "Being that I don't have a wife, I don't have kids, I was like, 'You know what? I'm going to try it. Now is the time.'"

After about six months of research and business planning, he launched in March 2016. Now, just a week after his company's first anniversary, he says he's still learning every day, but the company is coming along as well as he could have imagined.

Some of the design lessons he's learned? Well, it's clear to see that young Charlotteans love their alcohol. His Day Drinking and Boozy Brunch tees are two of the most popular ones on his roster.

click to enlarge JD Harris (middle) shows off some Glory Days Apparel tees with friends.
  • JD Harris (middle) shows off some Glory Days Apparel tees with friends.

They also love their sports teams. A recent release called the CLT Autobot mixes the Knights, Charlotte Hornets and Carolina Panthers' logos to make one Transformer-inspired hybrid mascot.

Harris was worried about going too far with that one — he usually likes to keep it simple — but it's outperformed almost every other shirt since.

Perhaps the most popular of all his designs was nearly another throwaway idea. The simplistic shirt just says "Charlotte Vs. All Y'all" rounded across the chest and belly. He made it as an Ohio kid playfully poking fun at Southern slang and planned to just run it as a one-off, but it's turned into one of the company's most consistent sellers, and inspired other designs, like the Panthers design pictured above.

"I think one of the biggest obstacles is starting to learn what your customer base is," Harris says. "To figure out what the look is, what they're looking for in a product. I try to run things by my friends, especially ones that are going to give me the honest truth, not just say yes to everything. I want to hear when it sucks, I want to know. I'd rather know then before I put it out."

Judging from the reaction Creative Loafing gets anytime Joe Gillespie is involved with anything, it's safe to say the Homertown Hero will be one of Harris' best sellers yet, and both Harris and Charlotte Knights Charities will reap the benefits.

As for the man who inspired all this, Gillespie is already looking past the baseball season. In December, he will have served his full 18 months of probation. His first thought when asked about that?

"Then I can get my pistols back," he says with a roguish chuckle.

Well, we all have our priorities.

rpitkin@clclt.com

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