‘It’s band tee heaven’: City Fun is the East Village spot for music merch 

City Fun is a bright spot on an East Village block otherwise dedicated to bodegas. The store sells shirts from all your favorite bands, benefiting both the artist and the small local business.


Manasa Gudavalli

City Fun is located at 45 First Ave. (Manasa Gudavalli for WSN)

Julia Diorio, Staff Writer

Located on First Avenue between Second and Third Streets, City Fun is a vibrant explosion of color and music in the East Village shopping scene. The store exclusively sells band merchandise, offering everything from sweatshirts to baby clothes. All of it is obtained through licensed vendors, which means that when you buy from City Fun, a portion of the sales directly benefit the artist.

City Fun manager Lilly Russell has handpicked every design that has come through the store since 2019. As a Stern alum, she’s put her business degree to use expanding City Fun’s revenue and clientele. By posting how-to style TikToks and new inventory, the store’s account has accrued over 300,000 likes. Russell and her staff demonstrate how to style the shirts with different outfits, displaying them with both cropped fits and oversized looks. She also uses TikTok as a platform to expand the store’s online presence, leading to interest from followers around the world. 

“I’m really passionate about all different types of music and I’m a musician as well, so it’s really cool to have this role where I can involve my passion for music in the job that pays my bills,” Russell said.

Russell is hoping to open a second storefront in SoHo. Currently, the whole company, including its online sales, operates out of its small stall on First Avenue. Russell joked about the store’s small space, pointing out that a small curtain covering a corner in the back is actually there for storage —not a changing room, as many of the shop’s patrons assume.

City Fun carries merchandise for a large range of artists spanning across many genres, but its selections mainly focus on its staff and clientele’s favorite musicians. Russell said she’s noticed a resurgence in popularity of ’90s grunge, and said that it’s influenced sales. Right now, the store’s most popular bands are Sonic Youth, Hole, Nirvana and Metallica. 

“A lot of people are seeing people online wearing a Nirvana or Metallica shirt, and they like it and buy it even if they don’t listen to them,” Russell said. “It’s not necessarily about the music, but it’s also about the graphics and fashion side of it. These big name bands are in fashion now, not only within music.”

Fashion and music have long been intertwined, and band shirts are a clear example. They’re worn both by lovers of the music and lovers of the design. Retailers like Urban Outfitters and H&M have been selling graphic band tees since the early 2010s. Many people have been influenced by celebrities like Olivia Rodrigo and Emma Chamberlain, who have often been spotted wearing band merch.

What sets City Fun apart from other sellers like Etsy or Amazon is that everything in the shop is officially licensed. A percentage of each sale makes it back to the artist, through the vendors where City Fun buys its merchandise. 

“It’s important to us that it’s really about the music,” Russell said. “Everyone here loves music, plays music, something like that.”  

The staff members at City Fun are so connected to the music that it’s almost intimidating. They each have their own playlist on the shop’s Spotify account, meaning every song you hear while shopping has been hand-picked by an employee who wants to share it with you. Russell shared that the shop’s employees like to call it the best destination for buying official band merchandise. 

When you step into City Fun, it doesn’t matter if you listen to the artists whose merchandise you admire. You will not be quizzed by the cashier about what you buy on your way out, but will instead likely be complimented for your choice. With its bedazzled skateboards and cheetah print lounge chairs, City Fun has established itself as New York City’s next spot for self-expression.

Contact Julia Diorio at [email protected].