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Madison-USA Envisions a Lifestyle
Chicago entreprenuers bring fresh concept to Columbus

by Margaret Marten
November/December 2017 Issue

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Jarrel Tolbert in Madison-USA * photo | Maria Galloway

American Apparel, the well-known national chain store specializing in basic American-made fashion, operated for over 11 years at the northwest corner of Fifth and High. They finally closed earlier this year, along with their other national chain stores. The empty, vulnerable storefront that remained could easily have succumbed to a developer, restaurant, or bar aspirant but instead came into the hands of three ambitious young men from Chicago. Three men, each possessing ideals and a plan to add something unique to the area.

Madison-USA is the brainchild of Evan Turner, Jarrel Tolbert, and Jelani Floyd. It’s essentially a men’s apparel store, and at first glance, one sees a spacious, white, light-filled interior with a minimalist approach to merchandising. What is less obvious is the philosophy behind the business. Jarrel Tolbert, 28, whom I interviewed, emphasized that it’s not simply a men’s apparel store, but a men’s lifestyle store. They sell other products – home goods and publications – geared toward a particular lifestyle. In this case, a creative amalgamation of streetwear culture and sports.

Co-owner Evan Turner, 29, is a former Ohio State University basketball star and currently a Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard. Jesse Villanueva, their store buyer – referred to as a professional streetwear enthusiast – was once profiled by the New York Times in a “Sneaker Connoisseur” series. Tolbert said he and his partners have always been interested in fashion and sports. Growing up in Chicago, they played basketball together. Madison-USA, the store’s name, is a nod to the district they frequented – the corner of West Madison Street and South Pulaski Road – that became an integral part of their journey into the streetwear savvy lifestyle.

Attire as Artwork
Tolbert serves as the shop’s art director. His minimalist approach reflects his view that streetwear can be considered and displayed as artwork. “Clothing is the artwork. It’s not a bunch of clothes sitting on shelves or racks,” he explained. “I’m a minimalist, so I think you can see a lot of that in the design of the store.”

Their “ever-evolving mix of niche and mainline brands” includes streetwear staples like sneakers, hoodies, printed T-shirts, sweatpants and their in-house line on Champion garments. The shop stocks magazines reflecting the world of “art and fashion or sports and fashion or sports and art” as well as home products – starting small with items like incense, coffee table accessories, phone chargers.

A lifesize white sculpture by Chicago artist Hebru Brantley is in the center of the shop, bringing art to the forefront of Madison-USA. “He has become very popular among streetwear culture, and in the Chicago art community in general,” said Tolbert about Brantley and his character Flyboy. The north wall is adorned with framed photos by three prominent photographers, serving as a gallery, again reflecting the shop’s artful approach to honoring streetwear culture.

Tolbert plans to conduct workshops to educate and engage the community with discussion about fashion trends. “Even if you’re not necessarily into the clothing, we still want people to come and learn,” he said. “Be it the streetwear culture or even just like the fashion world in general.” Similarly, he and his partners want to become informed about Columbus. Their pop-up shop in May at the High Street space offered them some insight into the Columbus scene and gave them the green light to proceed with their plans to settle in the Short North.

“We all come from the same place,” said Tolbert. “We all share similar goals. We all want to make a difference.”

Madison-USA, 1219 N. High St., is open Tues. through Sat. Noon to 8 p.m.; Sun. Noon to 6 p.m.; Closed Monday. Call 614-754-8126 or visit for more information.

© 2017 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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