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Central Standard

For One Wyandotte County Store, The 'Dotte Identity Brings In The Dough

Christina Lieffring

Little League teams across Wyandotte and western Johnson counties in Kansas are gearing up for spring, summer and fall sports.

That’s why Varsity Sports Sporting Goods in Kansas City, Kansas, is piled high with brightly colored T-shirts and hats, waiting to be silk-screened or stitched.

Jim Woods is the owner of Varsity Sports Sporting Goods.

"All these Little League teams ordering uniforms and stuff this time of year, gets kind of crazy for about a month and a half, two months," Woods says.

Woods' store is also known as "The 'Dotte Store” because of its line of clothing, beer cozies and coasters emblazoned with a logo that says “Dotte Original.”

"In '93, we were sitting around talking about the top 10 reasons to live in Wyandotte County and as we were talking about that we decided, ‘Hey, you know, we ‘ought to do a ‘Dotte shirt,’" Woods says.

He hired a woman from Olathe to design the logo and they did a run of white and gray T-shirts. It expanded to other colors and clothing items like hoodies, sweatpants and even flip-flops.

After 2000, Woods says the line took off and the merchandise now takes up almost 80 percent of the store’s retail space. As a lifelong ‘Dotte himself, Woods is glad to see people being so proud of where they live.

"It's nice to see the people be so supportive of Wyandotte County, you know," he says. "We get kind of a bad rap sometimes."

Nicolas Segura, owner of Somos marketing agency, grew up in Wyandotte County and says he often compared his neighborhood with Johnson County right next door.

"So you have the poorest county in Kansas, probably, next to the richest county in one of ... the United States as a whole," Segura says. "I think that you are made aware of the disparity between rich and poor when you are made aware of your place with rich next to poor like that."

For Segura, and many others, that awareness motivated him to succeed.

"When you come from very poor beginnings and then you make something out of yourself, I think that's a common story for anyone who has come from nothing and created something," he says. "I think that at the same time, it makes people work harder — to struggle to grow to get out of there."

He remembers when ‘Dotte was a negative term, a code word used to refer to the disparities.

"Previously the ‘Dotte was used somewhat as a pejorative – someone who came from lower means in the past," he says. “'You’re a ‘Dotte.' 'That’s a ‘Dotte.' That’s a Wyandotte County person — they’re not as smart, they’re not as educated they don’t have formal training or a cultured background."

Regional pride in Wyandotte County isn’t new, but over the past 10 to 15 years, the developments in the region have given the residents more to be proud of. Segura says the different generations have different perspectives.

"I think that WyandotteCountians have always had a great deal of pride," he says. "I can see where Wyandotte County has come from very poor backgrounds to doing very well, so my perspective comes from having nothing and creating something. Now the newer generation sees the world as in ‘We’ve got something, we’ve created something really interesting.’" 

Many students at Wyandotte High School say they don't call themselves ‘Dottes - its just not a thing they do. While some kids say "I’m from the ‘Dotte" others still won’t use that term. 

Student Tatiana Brockman says, "I just call it Wyandotte County."

Her friend cuts in, "She's not like that. She's respectful. She [doesn't] talk like that." She did not disclose her name.

Ingrid Aguero says even saying "Wyandotte County" invokes negative stereotypes.

"I don't know about the whole 'Dotte thing, I just know that if someone says they go to Wyandotte, then they think you're a criminal," she says.

Junior Dejenae Duncan will say she's from the 'Dotte, but it depends on who she's talking to.

"If I went to an interview, I wouldn't say 'I'm from the 'Dotte," she says. "Just like when a friend or teacher asks me, 'What school do you go to?' I'm like, 'I'm from the 'Dotte.' They'd understand where I'm coming from."

And she says it with pride.

"This is a term of our own to know that this is home for us," she says. "I love this place. I wouldn't be here if I didn't love it."

Back at Dotte Original, Woods and his daughter, Heather Melvin, take customers’ orders for uniforms and trophies. During the rest of the year, the sporting goods side of his business is slow, partly due to competition with big box stores and the internet. But Woods says the ‘Dotte Original line, keeps this family business going. 

"The line, it just sells itself," he says. "We have great people in Wyandotte County that really supported this. It really, honestly, keeps the doors open and, I’m grateful for that."

Wyandotte Countians have been calling themselves ‘Dottes for decades. But there’s a perception today in Wyandotte that the county is changing for the better and there’s more to be proud of. And Woods is able to stay in business because ‘Dottes now want to wear their pride, literally, on their sleeve.

This look at the line between Wyandotte and Johnson Counties is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them. Become a source for KCUR as we investigate Johnson and Wyandotte Counties.