Nish Tees opens Fresh Prints retail shop on Hunter Street

Anishinaabe entrepreneur James Hodgson sets up shop in the downtown’s tiniest storefront
Nish Tees owner James Hodgson (left) and employee Tyler Watson outside of Fresh Prints, the apparel business’s new retail outlet on Hunter Street. (Photo: Will Pearson)

The famously tiny retail unit at 219½ Hunter Street has a new tenant.

James Hodgson has taken over the 85-square-foot commercial space, where he now sells t-shirts and other apparel produced by his screen printing business, Nish Tees. Hodgson has given his new retail outlet the cheeky name Fresh Prints of Hunt-Air.

At present, the shop has items featuring Hodgson’s own designs in stock, but his plan is to collaborate with other local artists to sell shirts featuring their work, too. He hopes this will help artists to monetize their work and earn some extra income. The goal is to work with a new artist each month, and to launch their products during the month’s First Friday art crawl, he says.

Opening the shop is the latest development in a long career for Hodgson. He got his start as a screen printer in 1999 when he took a job at a local shop called Burnt Images. Over the next decade and a half, he worked at a few different screen printing shops, he says.

In time, though, Hodgson felt the pull of entrepreneurialism. “I just got tired of working for other people,” he says. “I wanted to have a little more control over who I worked for and who my customers were.”

Hodgson founded Nish Tees in 2016. “I did everything from the ground up,” he says. “I worked from home when I started it and partnered with a place I used to work at to use their equipment after hours.”

Hodgson is from Whitesand First Nation, and his Anishinaabe heritage has inspired his work at Nish Tees from the beginning.

In the early years of the business, Hodgson started a series of shirts based on the seven Anishinaabe Grandfather Teachings. Each year, he designs and prints a new shirt based on one of the seven teachings and sells it as a fundraiser for Orange Shirt Day, which is held annually on September 30 to raise awareness about the ongoing impact of residential schools. Hodgson chooses a different Indigenous cause to donate the shirts’ proceeds to each year.

This year’s shirt centres the teaching on honesty and integrity, represented by Kitchi-Sabe, and proceeds will be donated to NATWIN, which the Nish Tees website describes as “an excellent local effort working to provide essential goods and services to northern communities affected by wildfires and other challenges.”

Nish Tees’s latest offering for its annual Orange Shirt Day fundraiser. (Photo courtesy of Nish Tees)

In 2021, news broke that 215 unmarked graves had been discovered at a residential school near Kamloops, B.C., and thousands of unmarked graves have since been revealed at other residential school sites.

The discovery of the graves has raised awareness about the deadly legacy of colonialism. That, in turn, has driven interest in Hodgson’s shirts as people look to acknowledge Orange Shirt Day and support an Indigenous-owned business at the same time.

“The last two to three years has just exploded,” Hodgson says. He describes the week leading up to last year’s Orange Shirt Day as “pure and utter chaos” at the Nish Tees production facility on Sherbrooke Street. “People were coming in every 30 seconds to pick up an order, and it really kind of choked out our production levels.”

Now, with a dedicated downtown retail space, Hodgson can keep production and sales separate. “People can just walk in and buy a shirt,” he says. The open hours at Fresh Prints are currently Thursday to Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

James Hodgson in the new Nish Tees retail space on Hunter Street. (Photo: Will Pearson)

Hodgson is the latest in a long line of creative entrepreneurs to set up shop at 219½ Hunter Street. Currents documented the storied history of the commercial unit earlier this year. It started as a hotel stairwell in the 19th century, but through a series of renovations was turned into an unconventionally small retail space. It’s been a laundromat, an anarchist hangout, a private dining room, a plant shop, and more.

Hodgson, who calls himself a “fixture on Hunter Street,” says he’s always been aware of the tiny shop. He noticed it was unoccupied earlier this summer, and he reached out to the landlord to inquire. Soon, he’d signed a lease.

Like the previous lease-holders of 219½ Hunter, Hodgson was attracted by the space’s cheap rent. “You can’t beat the price,” he said. “I’d probably never be able to find a retail space for this amount.”

Hodgson says his rent is $500 a month, and he paid for a year up front. 

“Now, I have to try to make that back,” he says. “We’ll see how it goes. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up selling ice cream out of the front.”


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