By Geoff Fox
APOLLO BEACH – Jamie Connell placed a light-blue T-shirt on a metal plate, carefully smoothed out the wrinkles and placed it onto a digital direct-to-garment printer.
Connell, general manager at Red Bug Tees, centered the shirt and pressed a button.
Seven minutes later, the memorial T-shirt, featuring peace signs and the back of a Volkswagen bus with MOON on the license plate, was done. The lines were sharp and the colors popped.
Connell smiled. “That thing’s like an ink jet printer on steroids,” he said, pointing at the machine.
Red Bug Tees started about 18 months ago, as one of owner Jeff Dobish’s several side businesses. Dobish’s main business is Truck Master Warranty, which handles extended service contracts for commercial heavy-duty trucks.
A native of Victoria, British Columbia, Dobish started the T-shirt business on a lark after making shirts for Truck Master Warranty clients. The Red Bug Tees name was inspired by his mother, Monica.
“She went through a divorce and had gone through some tough times,” Dobish said. “For a while, she was recycling bottles just to make her mortgage payments. Her dream was to someday buy a red Volkswagen bug.
“She’s 78 now, runs her own dog-sitting business and is now driving her third new Volkswagen. So, Red Bug Tees is all about strength and perseverance.”
The shop, in the Frandorson Circle plaza off Apollo Beach Boulevard, just west of U.S. 41, handles lots of walk-in traffic, as well as Internet orders, which have come from as far away as Wisconsin.
Connell said most shirts are for family reunions, memorials, local restaurants, bridal parties and gag gifts. Dozens of examples hang near the shop’s front door.
On one, famous sci-fi villain Darth Vader is holding a frosty mug. The caption: “I FIND YOUR LACK OF BEER DISTURBING.”
Another, featuring tropical birds, palm trees and a tiki bar, touts nearby Bella Sol Waterfront Villas, where the motto is that it’s always “4 o’clock somewhere.”
Others celebrate Apollo Beach, U.S. veterans and various themes based on the good times that come with a South Shore lifestyle.
“The gag gifts are the most fun to do,” Connell said.
For example, on a recent weekday, a man ordered an extra-large T-shirt with the image of a friend on the front. On the back was an obscene phrase; it will not be displayed in the shop.
Connell said the shop produces about 200 T-shirts a month.
Dobish, the owner, said he offers church discounts and enjoys “working with local groups and anything to do with kids.”
“I’m a big believer in paying it forward,” he said.
For information about the business, visit redbugtees.com.