Chicago Transit Authority finds market for themed gifts


Love it or hate it, the CTA’s rumbling trains and buses make Chicagoans feel at home.

“The CTA has so many iconic aspects; whether it’s the ‘L’ structure itself or the bus stop signs,” said Lambrini Lukidis, a media representative for the Chicago Transit Authority. “When people see something related to the CTA, they immediately know what it is. People really identify with it.”

And as it turns out, people are also willing to pay for it. The CTA decided to start selling merchandise in 1999 after witnessing a demand for CTA-themed gifts at the Loop ‘L’ Centenial Celebration in 1997.

By 2008, the agency shifted to an online-only store, While the store sells everything from t-shirts to tote bags, some of the most popular items include miniature wooden trains and buses, umbrellas and even a shower curtain – all bearing iconic CTA imagery.

“There definitely is a fan base out there for the CTA” Lukidis said.

Last year, the site rang up nearly $82,000 in gross sales. The agency gets 12 percent of that in royalties, or a minimum annual guaranteed amount, whichever is higher.

However, not everyone knows about the virtual gift shop, including Matthew Russell.

“I’ve lived here for a year now, and trying to explore everything I can see, and I haven’t seen anything about a CTA gift shop and I’ve been riding the CTA everywhere,” he said.

Even so, 67 percent of the sales from the site come from Illinois, while New York and California account for the highest out-of-state orders.

“I think [buyers are] a combination of people who have cut some ties to Chicago, they live somewhere else,” Lukidis said. “In addition, I think rail enthusiasts in general will purchase CTA-type merchandise whether they are fans or whether they have some sort of affiliation with Chicago.”

CTAvending1For people who want their CTA memorabilia immediately, there is a merchandise vending machine at the CTA’s main lobby full of smaller items including toy trains, wallets and cosmetic cases.

The agency is toying with the idea of placing more vending machines throughout the city.

“I’d probably buy a CTA shirt or something like that,” Russell said. “I love Chicago, and the CTA is how I get around.”


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