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Bigfooted by Nike: Local small businesses getting squeezed

SPACED CITY

Bigfooted by Nike
Local small business getting squeezed

By Richard Connelly

For 17 years B-Bad Sportswear of Houston has been providing uniforms for teams in the Houston school district, employing 22 workers, hustling to replace torn or missing jerseys before games, proud to have made the shirts and shorts worn by state champions.

At one time, boss Gerald Taylor tells Hair Balls, his company may have done 80 percent or so of the uniforms in the district. Nowadays, he says, it's more like 2 percent.

Why? The big guns have rolled in. Nike is now king.

Late last year the UIL, which governs Texas high school sports, struck a deal with Nike to be the "outfitter of choice" for the state's schools, the first-ever statewide agreement for the company.

As such, Nike offers a discount, sponsors events and has an in at every school in Texas.

And Gerald Taylor and B-Bad have very quickly found themselves on the outs.

"When you tell us it's fair play, and then you undercut us — with our tax dollars — with a company that gets everything from overseas, it's not right," he says.

Individual schools are still free to buy uniforms from whomever they choose, but Taylor says Nike sales staff can sweeten deals by offering extras and lower prices.

(HISD spokesman Norm Uhl says the district makes some purchases districtwide through bids, but some schools can buy on their own.)

And, after all, getting the best deal for the tax dollars is probably what most HISD taxpayers care about. Taylor, though, says it's killing local businesses who also support the community, go the extra mile with teams and provide jobs.

And, he says, it's not so much the price difference that's making it hard to persuade teams to use him — it's the high-priced power of the Nike brand, reinforced constantly through the hippest commercials on TV, starring the players that kids worship and want to emulate.

"The mind-set of the youth in the country now, especially the minority youth, is 'If it's not Nike, it's not good,'" says Taylor, who's black.

Unfortunately for Taylor, his situation isn't unique or likely to be rectified anytime soon, with the global economy and all.

But he wants to get the message out. "What we're facing is a demise of small businesses," he says. "The President says the backbone of this country is small business. Now how can you be the backbone when you're undercutting us at every turn?"
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CRIME

Hey, You're Not a Salon Inspector!!

By Richard Connelly

The deviousness of the criminal mind is unbounded, as can be seen from the latest alert from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Someone is walking into the hair and nail salons of Houston, announcing himself as a state inspector and then taking products or demanding money for looking the other way at violations.

"He may even provide a receipt for the fake fines he collects," the TDLR says, which you have to admit is nice of the guy.

The TDLR's Steve Bruno tells Hair Balls that two or three places have been hit around town. He doesn't know how much money was involved, but he wants salons to know that inspectors generally have ID and don't ask for cash.

"We have had people offer cash when violations have been found, but we don't like that either," he says.

The man, described as a "short, clean-cut, heavy-set Hispanic male, approximately 40 years old," wears a business suit to carry out the part.

He must have his rap down pretty well,because he hasn't been caught. On the other hand, what are you going to do, call 911? "Help, there's a bogus salon inspector in the house!!"

It is serious business to the TDLR.

"TDLR will not allow unscrupulous people to take advantage of cosmetologists in Texas," says Executive Director William Kuntz in a statement. "This scam artist is impersonating a public official to steal from law-abiding citizens. Once he is apprehended, we will seek punishment to the fullest extent of the law."

What that would be will depend on the dollar figures involved.

TDLR inspectors do make unannounced visits to salons — Bruno says a visit happens once every two years.

But the real inspectors have a state ID, a business card and will be able to provide an official Proof of Inspection form.

Oh, and they don't ask for cash. At least they're not supposed to.
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CRIME

Mo City's Z-Ro Back in Court

By John Nova Lomax

Joseph Wayne McVey, the rapper the streets know as Z-Ro, is in trouble again. The King of the Ghetto has a trial date set at the Harris County Courthouse for felony drug possession, stemming from a heretofore unreported February 2009 Harris County Sheriff's bust.

Police allege that McVey, 33, was in possession of a codeine mixture weighing more than 28 grams but less than 199 grams, including adulterants and dilutants.

This case came about two weeks after McVey was busted for misdemeanor pot possession and later found not guilty after taking the stand in his own defense at trial. "The jury believed him when he said he didn't do it," Robert Jones, McVey's attorney, tells Hair Balls. "He's a very honest, forthright person."

However, the supremely talented rapper/singer was convicted in 2003 on another codeine charge, for which he eventually spent a couple of stints in prison after violating his probation. Another conviction could spell years behind bars.

Jones says his client is innocent of this charge. He says authorities found a bottle of pharmaceutical cough syrup in a bottle with someone else's name on the prescription in the back seat of a car in which McVey was riding. Asked what possible sanctions the rapper could be facing if convicted, Jones was unsure. And he thinks that after all is said and done, the prospect of punishment will be moot.

"Right now, the penalty has been enhanced, so I would have to look that up to see what exactly that is, but I anticipate that he is going to trial because he didn't do anything, so the penalty is zero," Jones laughs.

Jones anticipates that the trial will be delayed, as he says the DA has reindicted McVey for the same offense. "They're trying to ramp up the charges and make him scared so he'll take something," he says. "It is nothing more than a form of intimidation. It doesn't change the facts of the case at all."

Z-Ro, also known as Z-Ro the Crooked and the Mo City Don, escaped a tragic and hardscrabble youth on the streets of Missouri City's Ridgemont area to become one of the most musically and lyrically talented rappers the Houston area has produced.

Though his fame is mainly regional, songs like "I Hate U Bitch" (with its video recorded in an Orange County prison) and "The Mule" have won him effusive praise in publications such as The New York Times and our sister paper The Village Voice, whose former columnist Tom Breihan declared Z-Ro an "unsung hero of Southern rap" along with Memphis's Project Pat.

Jones knows little of his client's musical exploits, but seems genuinely impressed with McVey the man. "Everybody who knows his music has told me that he is a purist," Jones says. "And he's just an honest, forthright person. If he did it, he'll say he did it."

And McVey is saying he didn't do this...Let's hope the jury agrees.


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