In case you hadn’t noticed, we live in a strange world. Consider a random fact: Burt Reynolds has a website. It’s apparently not strange enough for the giggling, mustachioed icon of the 1970s to have a website. No. He’s got to have an outdated website that fails to recognize his 15 most recent movies. Jim Nabors also has a website, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to look at it.
What’s all this got to do with you? Before you get an answer, consider another random fact: You wear t-shirts. So does everyone else.
Let’s take all of these facts now whirling around in your head and plop them down at the corner of Lyndale Avenue and 34th Street. That’s where Reynolds, in all his “Smokey and the Bandit,” Cosmo centerfold, “Deliverance” and “Boogie Nights” glory is celebrated, along with that simple staple of American fashion, the t-shirt. The two iconic entities come together in Stroker Ace, the custom screenprinting shop at 3404 Lyndale Ave. S.
Stroker Ace is, as all Reynolds fans know, the title of his critically scorned 1983 movie directed by Hal Needham of “Cannonball Run” infamy and starring Nabors as Lugs the mechanic. The owners of Stroker Ace, the t-shirt and screenprinting shop, both wear tees of their own creation featuring an image of Reynolds from that cinematic nightmare.
John Schreiner and Bob Schuchman could be a couple of Reynolds movie sidekicks. They’re a little bit scruffy, as his sidekicks often were (think of Jerry Reed and Nabors). They’re funny, as Reynolds’ sidekicks often were not (think of Reed, Dom DeLuise and Nabors). Schreiner plays drums in a bar band called the Spittin’ Cobras (both Reed and Nabors had musical careers) and Schuchman studied biology in college (as far as can be determined, Reed, Nabors and DeLuise never went near the subject).
Stroker Ace (the screenprinting shop) is a budget-conscious ode to the ’70s, focused mainly on the celluloid exploits of Reynolds. On the walls behind the cash register are taped-up movie posters, including a rare one from the 1969 “Shark!”
When asked why their t-shirt shop celebrates Reynolds, the two men exchange quick glances.
“We’re definitely fans,” Schreiner says.
“We’re truly fans of his,” Schuchman echoes.
“But we can make fun of it, too,” Schreiner says with a smile. “I think we became bigger fans after we started the shop. We’d always get some beers and ’70s movies and watch ’em, ’cause they just cracked us up.
The two say that they named their shop Stroker Ace because a swipe of the squeegee across the screen used to put ink on t-shirts is called a stroke. The naming decision led to the pair watching more Reynolds movies and an effort to collect Burt memorabilia. Their collection now includes a Hollywood Walk of Fame plate commemorating Reynolds’ inclusion, a miniature “Smokey and the Bandit” 16-wheeler and a “Cannonball Run” board game that apparently isn’t all that easy to figure out.
“We got drunk once and tried to play it,” Schuchman says, laughing. “It didn’t work.”
[Note: www.rubylane.com, a website selling board games says the following about this “star spangled wacky race game” from 1981. “It’s a real simple game to learn, with not many pieces at all, but it is great fun.”]
Schuchman and Schreiner were recently in Jupiter, Fla. for a t-shirt convention. Jupiter’s where Reynolds lives and occasionally performs.
The two CARAG businessmen swung by the famed Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum, out on Highway 1 in Jupiter, but were disappointed in the collection of memorabilia there. They said museum employees urged them to send a photo of their shop to Reynolds, who, the employees said, might sign and return it.
The Stroker boys are a bit reluctant to do so, however. They’re not sure if using Reynolds’ image on their storefront is entirely cool, copyright-wise.
“We’re just leery about him getting mad,” Schreiner says. “I don’t think he would. We don’t sell anything with his name on it. It’s more of just an homage [pronounced with a proper French accent] to the icon, so you’d think he would be happy.”
There’s a lot to be happy about. The t-shirts are high quality and reasonably priced. Rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop artists around town like to get shirts for their fans and friends printed up at Stroker Ace because they get a discount, as do schools and nonprofit organizations.
They opened their shop on Jan. 1 of 2004 near Bryant-Lake Bowl. They stayed there about a year before they needed more space and moved to their present location.
The two feel good enough about the growth and stability of their business that they’re going to bring out their own line of t-shirts this spring.
“It’s stuff we’ve always thought about doing in the past,” Schreiner says.
He shows off some of the designs on his computer in the rear of the shop, back where the Black Sabbath, Gordon Lightfoot and Kiss posters hang. One design says in a happy font, “Bidet, mate!” and another refers to actor Chris Makepeace, most famous for his starring role in the 1980 movie, “My Bodyguard.”
“Makepeace not war!” the shirt declares.
The Stroker boys don’t expect to get rich from designs that appear to be mainly for their own amusement – if a few other geeks obsessed by pop culture get the jokes and shirts, so much the better.
“It’s funny, goofy stuff,” Schreiner says with his Eddie Van Halen smirk.
These guys take life much as Burt Reynolds sidekicks always have: laughing at themselves in the hopes that others will laugh along and have some fun.
Schreiner is irrepressible; he’ll drag a visitor to the front of the store to show off a sign they made announcing to visitors, “Stroker Ace bans handguns and Tim Pawlenty on these premises.”
They wear their politics on their sleeves as proudly as they do their affection for Reynolds and the pop ‘n’ trash culture of the past.
“It’s part of the philosophy we had when we got into business. We’re not corporate, greedy bastards,” he says. “We’re just two dudes.”