TWIN VALLEY, Minn. — Walking down the streets of Twin Valley, Minn., (pop. 767) with hometown boy Mike Brevik is probably like what it must be like to walk through Mayberry with Opie Taylor. Brevik grew up here in the '80s, and the memories come flashing back with every step he takes.
“See that building there? That actually used to be the bowling alley,” Brevik said. “That bakery sign has hung there since I was a kid and used to be owned by a local couple that had the best baking and donuts I've ever had in my life.”
It's the very definition of sweet memories for Brevik, who can’t help but reminisce about riding bikes every summer with his buddies.
“We’d spend the entire day just going up and down Main Street, building ramps and whatever it was. It was just, you know, pretty simple,” Brevik said.
During the school year, he was a proud Twin Valley Tiger, cheering on the older kids as they went off to playoffs and tournaments.
Today Brevik lives in Hawley, Minn., and is CEO of Cyberdogz, a brand and marketing strategy firm in the Fargo-Moorhead area. He's found a way to use his marketing know-how to help others bask in their own small town pride, honor beloved schools that no longer exist and even reinvest in rural communities.
Brevik says a few years back, he started to take note of a new fashion trend: retro T-shirts that featured vintage-looking logos, brands and mascots — things like Bazooka bubblegum, RC Cola or Esso gas stations. He says the T-shirts he found in department stores and places like Target were fine, except for one thing.
“The logos kind of meant nothing. I thought ... wouldn't it be cooler if it was something like the old Twin Valley Tiger mascot T-shirt I had as a kid? School mascots that had some relevance to your past and some level of nostalgia that came with it?" he said.
He says he thought about it for a while and then decided to go out on a limb and make himself a retro Twin Valley Tiger T-shirt and wear it to Twin Valley’s hometown festival “Town and Country Days” in 2016.
“Throughout the day, I had upward of 30 or 40 people ask me about it and either make reference to it or ask, “Where did you get that?'” Brevik said.
Interest was high at the festival largely because the Twin Valley Tigers don’t exist anymore. Years ago, the school had merged with its arch rivals, the Gary Bulldogs, to become The Norman County East Eagles and, more recently, Norman County East combined with Ulen-Hitterdal in some sports and activities to become the Norman County Ulen Hitterdal (NCE-UH) Titans.
It became pretty clear to Brevik that if the Twin Valley Tiger shirt was a hit in his old hometown, graduates from other small town schools might be interested in getting their own mascot T-shirt. He started producing the retro shirts at his business DogDayz Apparel.
Keeping legacies alive
As rural populations decreased over the past few decades, thousands of school districts, like Twin Valley, Gary, Ulen and Hitterdal, were forced to merge to stay open. According to one Harvard study, The United States saw a wave of consolidation between 1930 and 1970, when the number of school districts fell by 90%.
It’s not that Brevik or anyone else whose school has consolidated won’t cheer for their school’s new iteration, it’s just that something gets lost to history when the banners from the old school gym come down.
“I think back to the Twin Valley Tigers, before it became Norman County East, winning the state basketball championships in ‘77 and ‘84 or ‘85. And I remember that being a big thing in town, that small town pride being celebrated in that way. But then, of course, as mergers happen and you start to lose pieces of that legacy along the way, those things just don't happen anymore,” Brevik said, adding that when people saw his retro shirt, not only did they ask where he got it, it started jogging memories about the past, reminding them of simpler days and connecting him to both older and younger generations in town.
“They might say ‘Yeah, my dad graduated from Twin Valley' or 'My grandparents were from Gary' or whatever it was. You can now go a couple generations away and still feel a sense of pride and want that retro T-shirt so that you can have that conversation,” he said.
Not just schools
As the mascot T-shirt business started picking up steam, Brevik started to think about all of the cool, old businesses that aren’t around anymore and how they bring their own memories to the table.
“Whether it was Joe's garage or Kegler Lanes, or whatever it was, what if we brought some of those back and just made a fun retro T-shirt out of them?” he said.
Brevik makes a few T-shirts based on favorite old hangouts in Fargo-Moorhead, including a Pinky’s Pizza T-shirt in honor of the old pizza parlor that sat right across the street from what was Agassiz Junior High School. He sells Skateland shirts for all of those kids who roller skated their Friday nights away. He also has shirts featuring King Leo’s Hamburgers, a popular hangout whose parking lot was the site of many a school car wash fundraiser.
But Brevik isn’t content to look back. He says as the business grows, his goal is to set up a foundation where he could give grants back to those small towns at the center of so many memories.
“Main Street used to be completely full with businesses, people and activity. And, you know, I don't know that there's much that can change about that,” Brevik said. “But at the same time, that's hopefully what part of this does, is dust off some of that old legacy in that small town feel and vibe and the pride behind it all.”
Wear the history
Check Mike Brevik's website at www.dogdayzapparel.com to see if he is offering products with your school's old mascot. If you have an idea for a T-shirt, you can make a request by filling out the form at www.dogdayzapparel.com/tee-request.