Flophouse Custom Skateboards offers custom designs, half-pipe

Nov 12, 2014 at 1:00 am

Ben Thompson discovered the name for his store while working as a kitchen manager in Ann Arbor. A customer comment card noted, one day, that the place was starting to look like a flophouse. Thompson was meandering toward his professional path even back then, and the custom T-shirts he was creating for the rest of us in the kitchen were a good indication of what that path would be. After graduating with a fine arts degree from Eastern Michigan University, Thompson decided to stay in his native Ann Arbor to begin forging his passions into something sustainable.

While working as a graphic designer, he noticed that many of the patterns he was making looked better stuck to his skateboard. By January of 2014, Thompson was designing and assembling skateboards at his current location south of West Liberty.

His designs, and the designs of collaborators, now hang on the walls of his shop, ready to be purchased and put through their paces. Flophouse's vibe is a heaping helping of all the associated coziness of the word, with just a hint of starkly painted job shop added in to maintain the retail veneer. All the components necessary to maintain a skateboard can be found along the perimeter of the space, either hanging from the wall or given their own bit of cabinet near the register. Proximity to the Ann Arbor Skate Park has taught the staff to be well-prepared to address any number of skateboard maintenance issues.

A half-pipe occupies the far end of the store. Built a few months back by Thompson and company, the structure is bounded on both ends by artistic interpretations of the store's name: one painted by staff and the other by a local graffiti artist. For $10 and their signature on a waiver, customers can use the indoor half-pipe for an entire year — not a bad option for those looking to cheat the colder months. Resident skateboarding professional and employee Johnny Scott thinks the half-pipe has helped the store to foster an exchange between generations of skateboarders. Older, inexperienced customers, he says, have found the environment especially instructive.

In the back room, the parts and designs necessary to bring boards to life are scattered about on sparsely deposited tables and shelves. The plan, according to Thompson, is to carry out almost every step of the manufacturing process in-house once the proper machinery can be purchased. In true auteur style, he finds it more satisfying to maintain complete control. For now, he manages with a homemade screen printer and an outsourced heat-transfer machine; judging by the look of the boards already rolling off the line, future machinery purchases might not be necessary.