John & Melissa Felcman
About two years ago, I started seeing the Mother Falcon logo surface on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. I had no idea what kind of business it was at first. Based on how quickly MF posts became liked or re-tweeted among some of my friends, I assumed it was a new bar or art gallery. Until finally, one day I clicked on the logo and learned that it was a t-shirt shop. WHAT. A t-shirt shop? This idea became very confusing to me. Why would so many people be eager to support a t-shirt shop? And how would a customized t-shirt shop last in Thornton Park? These questions stemmed from my experience of living downtown and in Thornton Park, where retail shops do not stick around very long unfortunately.
Mother Falcon proved to be different. They defied the odds during a tough economic time, and while some local businesses shut its doors they kept growing into the next building size. INTERESTING. I found myself wanting to create and customize my own t-shirt of my favorite Magic player just to support the business (Remember Pietrus? Yeah, well I still miss him and his last minute three point shots). I also started attending the Mother Falcon art shows. It wasn’t too much longer before John and Melissa agreed to carry my book in their store. And soon it became very clear to me that Mother Falcon had always been much more than a t-shirt shop. COMMUNITY. Mother Falcon has become a gathering place for Orlando’s creative and art-inspired neighbors. And now with the opening of their newest venture, a craft beer and wine art bar called The Falcon, the heart of Thornton Park is pulsating again.
Did you guys know that there’s a band called Mother Falcon?
John: Yes. They’re from Austin, where my family lives. And it’s totally a coincidence. We found out about them when we started our Facebook page.
I noticed that you beat them to the Mother Falcon Twitter domain. So that must count for something, right?
John: Yeah, we got lucky. We didn’t realize that they were a band until after we opened up the store.
Melissa: We went to South by Southwest about two years ago and they were headlining as one of the big bands there.
John: They were actually on the cover of the paper—the Austin Chronicle.
Melissa: And we were like, “Cool! Perfect.”
Where did the name Mother Falcon come from?
Melissa: Basically, we wanted the store to be called The Falcon. We were always talking back and forth about whether we wanted a second store or location. So we joked around that the first store would be the ‘Mother’ store. Then we kind of thought the name Mother Falcon was memorable and it just kind of developed from there.
Why a T-Shirt design shop?
John: We realized there was a niche for it. Both of us wanted to make custom clothes and couldn’t do it. So we thought it’d be a good idea to start doing it that way.
Melissa: Yeah. We both really like customized t-shirts. The only places around that did it were iron-on places, and we didn’t feel like you could completely express yourself with that. There wasn’t enough creativity. At the time, we were thinking of opening a business together and so we just decided to do that—customize shirts.
John: Plus, the only other way to get a custom t-shirt was on the Internet. And there was no way to control how good it came out or …
Melissa: Yeah, there’s no personal experience on the Internet.
Is there a company you modeled Mother Falcon after?
Melissa: [Pauses] We looked at a shop that did iron-ons, where you picked your own iron-on. We liked the fact that you could have a hands-on experience with the graphics. So we did model ourselves after that a little bit. We also modeled ourselves after a tattoo shop, where you can look through books or pick art. It all kind of came together organically. We kind of didn’t know what we were doing. We just put ourselves in the place of a customer walking in the shop, and thought of what they’d like to experience.
Why do you think your business thrives in Thornton Park?
Melissa: Well, we’re residents of Thornton Park. We both lived in other places for about eight years—out west. We both ended up coming back. I think when we came back we both realized how much we loved our home and loved Orlando. We have a lot of passion for our neighborhood and for our city. We appreciate it.
John: Right when we opened, everyone in the neighborhood totally loved and supported us.
But retail is so hard to do downtown…
John: Retail is hard to do anywhere right now thanks to the economy.
Melissa: Yeah, that’s true. I think we have a legitimate love for our city and people embrace that.
How did you two meet?
John: Through E-Harmony…
No way. C’mon…
John: [Laughs] No, we met through friends. And we hit it off immediately.
Melissa: We had the same mutual friends from high school all the way up…
John: And we never knew each other.
Melissa: Yeah, we never knew each other.
So when did you officially meet?
Melissa: When we had both just moved back to Orlando…
John: …in 2004.
Who made the first move?
John: I did.
Who’s always right?
John: She is.
What’s the secret to sharing a business and a marriage?
Melissa: [Pauses] Communication.
John: Yeah. And understanding.
Understanding what? That she’s always right?
John: Yeah. [Laughs] We both have the same goals. We both want to be successful. And so we help each other out.
Who does what around the shop?
John: I do mostly t-shirt printing and graphic design. She does all of the business aspects and marketing. And social networking. Everything.
Melissa: Yeah, social networking. Marketing. Accounting.
You guys certainly draw a lot of business during the NBA season. What are you guys gonna do if the NBA lockout continues and the season is canceled?
Melissa: Cry. [Laughs]
John: Yeah, cry. And not just because we might lose business but because we’re fans. There’s nothing more that I like doing than watching basketball after work.
What’s been your favorite Magic shirt?
John: Matt Barnes Will Kill You.
Melissa: I like Dwight Power.
Have you heard any feedback from the players?
John: We had a player come in who thought the shirts were really funny.
Melissa: What was his name?
John: Malik Allen.
Melissa: Yeah, and JJ’s wife came in about a shirt for herself. Her and her friends wanted to spell out ‘WE ♥ JJ’ on their shirts and wear it to a game. We also gave her a shirt to give to Ryan Anderson… the ‘I’m Gay For JJ’ shirt.
Really? That’s awesome. Was she a good sport about it?
Melissa: Yeah. She thought it was really funny.
John: We also had a fan wearing that shirt pose with JJ for a picture.
Who’s your most loyal customer?
Melissa: Don Miller.
John: He’s a radio personality. Hilarious. Really smart guy. Does political radio. He’s very cool and comes in all the time.
Who’s your most famous customer?
Melissa: [Pauses] I don’t know.
John: I don’t know either. Shaq?
Melissa: Yeah, we’ve made shirts for Shaq before.
What were they?
John: They were for the Shaq Vs show, you know? We made him a Bieber Fever shirt.
Melissa: Yeah. It was Shaquille O’Neal versus Justin Bieber. And so he wanted Bieber Fever and #1 Dad.
What’s been the strangest shirt request?
Melissa: There’s so many.
John: Yeah, there is a lot.
Melissa: We get that question a lot too. Let’s see… what would be appropriate? [Laughs]
John: We’ll pretty much print anything that’s not racist. We don’t tolerate that. If there are curse words, we’ll print that. You know… we’re not prudes. [He looks to Melissa] What’s a good one?
Melissa: [Laughs] There’s one that comes to mind, but I don’t want to say it.
John: The pound one?
Melissa: Yeah. [Laughs]
John: That’s the one I was thinking of too.
Melissa: [Laughs] Let me think about it some more. Ask me again later.
I’m excited for The Falcon to open. Whose idea was it to open an art bar?
John: Like we said earlier, it’s really been an organic process. We started out making t-shirts and it grew and grew and grew. We started getting involved with the local art scene, and we’ve been having monthly shows… do you want to take over?
Melissa: No. [Laughs]
John: So basically, we decided to open The Falcon so we could host the art shows and cater them ourselves.
Melissa: Basically, we’ve been doing art shows each month and each month we feature a local artist. You can either buy the art or get the art printed on a t-shirt. The shows just kept growing and growing and we just thought it’d be nice to have a bigger space to have parties. And voila! The place next door became open. So we decided to try it.
John: See. Her answer was way better than mine.
[Laughs] Why are the arts so important to you both?
Melissa: Since high school, I’ve always been around artistic and creative types. And while I took more of a business path, I think I’m still a creative person.
John: There’s no such thing as too much art. It’s cool to be a part of what’s happening now. We love the artists here. There’s so much talent in Orlando.
Melissa: We never talk about it, but John’s a good artist. When we visit his family in Texas, there’s a painting his grandfather has from when he was ten or something. Right? His mom always tried to encourage him to go to art school, but he never wanted to. So I’m glad he has a way to express himself now.
What kind of crowd do you hope The Falcon draws?
Melissa: Hopefully just the same crowd we’ve been having… people that are fans of art and the arts. We’re gonna have craft beer and wine. So people who enjoy craft beer will have a new place to come.
John: It’s going to be no smoking too.
Which will be a nice contrast to Burton’s.
Melissa: Yeah right. I think it’s going to be for people who are looking for something a little different in Thornton Park.
What comes next after The Falcon?
Melissa: Baby Falcon. [Laughs]
John: I don’t know. Let’s just get The Falcon open first.
Now tell me… what was on that shirt?
Melissa: This guy came into the shop and he wanted a shirt with an ‘I’ and the pound sign and a women’s body part that I will not say out loud. He wears it around Thornton Park while riding his pink scooter all the time.
John: I think his scooter’s white.
Melissa: Oh is it? [Laughs] I thought it was pink.
John: No it’s not, but a pink scooter does make the story sound better. [Laughs]
*Interview Date: August 9, 2011
To make your own customized t-shirt or learn about any upcoming Mother Falcon art shows, visit www.motherfalconclothing.com.