And if you're outside Nashville, looking for Vandy stuff? Forget it.
There are very few subjects on which I consider myself an expert, but one of them is where to find quality paraphernalia for the Vanderbilt fan. For my money, the first place you should check out these days is You Greek, Me Greek, the little storefront on the corner of 28th and West End.
Vandy fans are instantly drawn to the eye-catching brick wall on 28th, on which the faces of Commodore coaches are painted (and, as some would scoff, regularly repainted). But what Vandy's most loyal fans may not realize is that just behind that wall lies the city's best selection of licensed Vanderbilt items and apparel.
"Our business has been growing every year," says You Greek, Me Greek owner Steve Roppel, who acquired the operation in May, 1998. "The more merchandise we get in, the more it grows. The more connections we get, the more advantages we're able to give the consumer."
The little store with the funny name was begun in 1992 by a Vanderbilt student to supply campus fraternities and sororities with logo sweatshirts and apparel. Twelve years later, the store still caters to the Greeks, but in the last few years Roppel has placed a greater emphasis on serving the flag-flying, tailgating, black-and-gold-wearing Vandy enthusiast (the "VandyManiac", if you will).
"When we purchased the store, there were only one or two Vandy-licensed items here," Roppel said. "Lately we've scaled back on the Greek stuff and stocked up big-time on the Vandy licensed merchandise."
There may not be a whole lot of us Vandy diehards in the world-- but as an entrepreneur Roppel unquestionably has us in his mind. He knows how we think, and thinks he has figured out what we like.
It's a win-win for Vanderbilt's licensing and marketing department, with whom Roppel has an agreement to keep the outside mural periodically repainted. The more merchandise the store sells, the more the school benefits, both through licensing agreements, and through fans who give the school's sports teams free advertising on their bodies.
"It's kind of a niche market," admits Roppel. "Basically it's a lot of alumni and diehard fans, and of course it's not as large as your market for most other SEC teams."
Maybe not, but ror the true Vanderbilt fan, the floor of You Greek, Me Greek is near-nirvana. Here you can find fashionable jerseys and sweats, golf and polo shirts, shorts, and outerwear-- all within waking distance of campus, and at prices which you don't have to be part of the Belle Meade crowd to afford.
"The sales are sort of linked to the success of the teams," says Roppel, with a grin. "The football team let us down a little bit, but we still had a very good fall. We do our best business during the football and basketball seasons, but of course it slows down a little bit over the summer."
Over the holiday gift-giving period, You Greek, Me Greek has stocked up on novelty items that are sure to satisfy the hard-core Commodore devotee.
"We have officially licensed Vanderbilt salt and pepper shakers," Roppel says. "We have Vanderbilt helmets that have serving items inside of them for tailgaters. We have Vandy glasses, mugs, beverage holders and shot glasses."
For the ostentatious fan who wants to convert his car into a Vandy-mobile for traveling to road games, there are decals, magnets, flags, even trailer hitch covers. Collectors will love the Vandy replica helmets, jerseys and key rings. For the home, you can find Vandy throw rugs, as well as doormats (no jokes, please).
"We're always tailoring our goods for the consumer, the Vandy fan" he says. "That's why we're here-- for the consumer. Obviously we have to pay bills, because we're on a high-profile street here on West End Avenue. But we ultimately have the consumer in mind.
"We do custom work too, so consumer requests are not out of the question."
What if you're a displaced Vanderbilt fan who doesn't make it to Nashville often? Not to worry-- most items are available for order online at the VandyGear.com website.
Special discounts are available during basketball season for season ticket-holders, Roppel said. "They get discounts on a tiered basis on certain amounts that they buy in the store. We'll also have some special promotions that we'll be doing at the VandyGear.com site."
Here's to ya, Steve-- and here's hoping the cash registers keep jingling right through the holidays. (And if anyone wants to get me one of those herringbone sport shirts with the Vandy logo on the lapel... you'll be on my good list for the coming year, hint, hint).
You Greek, Me Greek is located at 2801 West End Avenue. Open Monday through Saturday, 10-5, with parking in back. Or, visit the online store at VandyGear.com.