BERWYN – When Linze Rice and her husband, Connor, moved to Chicago, they thought they’d never see the day when they’d leave the city. For nearly seven years, they carved out a home across the city. They were now Chicagoans, shaking off their suburban roots.
Linze is from Kingston, a small town in northern Illinois. With Kingston’s population spilling a little over 1,100, she often jokes about her hometown, calling it by another name, “the cornfield.” Connor grew up almost 50 miles southeast of Linze. A Naperville native, Connor comes from Illinois’ fourth largest city and oldest in DuPage County.
“Lo and behold, we turned 30 and moved into the suburbs,” Linze said, laughing. “Living in Berwyn now, we actually find that it suits us well. We’ve really fallen in love with them.”
Just a few months in, the couple found themselves wrapped up in Berwyn’s community and culture. From the iconic Cermak Plaza Shopping sign, which glows in hues of baby blue and bright pink, to the bustling main streets that stretch across Berwyn such as Ogden and Harlem avenues, these beloved neighborhood sites marked the beginning of the pair’s latest business endeavor.
As they settled into their new home, they worked their way into an idea. Linze put it simply: They sought to create a “love letter,” to their past, present and future. The end result is Best Midwest, a collection of minimalist T-shirts that feature 100 designs. Each design honors the cities, suburbs and towns they’ve called home over the years.
“We make a lot of jokes with each other,” Connor said. “We always kind of said something like, ‘Oh, that would be really funny to put on a T-shirt.’
“And it just kind of spiraled from there,” he continued. “It turned into not so much making funny T-shirts, but paying tribute to the Midwest and to the Chicago suburbs that we grew up in, where, you know, they hold a very special place in our hearts.”
Linze and Connor’s Best Midwest line is available on Threadless, a Chicago-based clothing site that celebrates an online community of independent artists.
On a plain, white T-shirt, the word “ope” – which is Midwest slang for “sorry” – is encircled by a CTA-like logo. In another, “#noketchup” is slapped across the Chicago flag. There are others that poke fun at local residents’ “parking dibs” and Chicago O’Hare International Airport’s newly installed cannabis amnesty box.
As for more Berwyn-centric shirts, there’s one that displays the retro Cermak Plaza sign, as well as another that screams, “Bring Back the Spindle.” The Spindle, otherwise known as the Car Kabob, was a longtime art installation in Berwyn that showcased eight cars threaded on a 50-foot spike.
Among her favorites, Linze made note of a special T-shirt. With “Berwyn Proud” stamped across a highlighter green shirt, this one, she said, recognized her new city’s LGBTQ community.
The collection also has expanded to include sweatshirts, long-sleeve tees, hoodies and tank tops for men, women and children. Designs also are featured on a variety of accessories, including beach towels, magnets, stickers and tote bags.
“We still have some that we haven’t released yet that are still just being finalized,” Connor said. “But they’ll be launching soon. We don’t have any intention of slowing down. We just want to keep coming up with fun ideas that people will also get a kick out of.”