No place like home for entrepreneurs

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Stephanie and Ryan Burke returned to Northeast Iowa to open a new business, thINK Custom Apparel. The business is located on Main Street Elkader in space formerly occupied by Garments and Goods.

By Willis Patenaude

Freelance Writer

When some people graduate from a small town school, they move away. And for a variety of reasons and life causes, they don’t return. But some, like Ryan and Stephanie Burke, both graduates from Central in 2004, after a 15-year odyssey in Cedar Falls, returned with pride, full hearts, and a family that includes two children. They came back to their roots to deepen them firmly in the Elkader soil. They came back to revive that connection to a way of life that never truly leaves your soul. They wanted to raise their kids in a picturesque, real life Norman Rockwell painting. In Ryan’s words, they came back because “Elkader is where home is.” They also saw an opportunity which sparked an idea, and so, after spending the last few years in sales, while Stephanie worked in marketing, they came back because they “felt something was missing” from the town. Something they could provide: a custom apparel shop.

It began with what Ryan described as “a love of clothes” and a midnight epiphany provided the name: thINK. Soon, the venture would overtake their living room, and as production grew and orders outpaced the living space, they needed to expand. This initial expansion saw the company move into and share space with Signs ‘n Frames, but within seven months, orders were once again exceeding the retail space and another move took place. In December 2019, with a little assistance from a few acquaintances, they decided to rent, what Ryan termed “an ideal location” at 125 South Main Street, previously occupied by Garments and Goods.

Ryan is a creative dreamer with the ambition to follow through, and he is focused and determined to have a grand opening in early February. However, as of right now, it’s a move that is still ongoing, filled with floor plan visions and ideas about shelving, product locations, and store signs. It’s going to be a space, once finished, replete with a unique industrial style, which Ryan hopes will standout amidst the homely, antique landscape of the town’s outward facades. Even in this attempt to look different in appearance, the modernist look will still encompass and promote the family friendly values already infused within the Elkader atmosphere. Always, there remains a passion to the small town mythos and it permeates Ryan’s every word.

But, what exactly is thINK and why does it matter? It is an onsite, affordable, fast, and efficient custom apparel shop that encourages you to “put your ideas in ink.” It offers screen printing services on a diverse line of products, from t-shirts and mugs, to hats and mouse pads, to hoodies and phone cases. It should be noted that prices vary based on product selection, quantity, and design intricacy, but are always comfortably reasonable. Admittedly, Ryan’s favorite printing jobs are the ones working with photos, which can be put on all of the above items, but for a more decorative touch, they can also be printed on Chromolux, wood, hardboard, and even cutting boards. The cherished memories of photos become indelible. It is the preservation of loved ones. For example, Ryan spoke of a job for a customer where he printed a Grandmother’s recipes on a cutting board for a Christmas gift. It’s those types of orders and those pieces of art that inspire Ryan and Stephanie. If you desire to create and preserve connections between generations, thINK will be there for you.

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