In 2015, Randy Anger was driving down Dollar Hill when he spotted tourists at the well-used overlook taking selfies with Lake Tahoe as the backdrop. He had been mulling over designs for his then-2-year-old company Tahoe Basics, and the scene before him sparked an idea that turned into their flagship graphic.
“I was thinking, ‘I bet they wished this was their home.’ It made me think how lucky we are to call Tahoe our home,” Anger said. “Then, bam!” Inspiration struck.
Anger’s signature design, based on this epiphany, features the state of California with “HOME” overlaid and, in a fit of perfection, the Lake Tahoe silhouette serves as the “O.”
In two weeks’ time, Tahoe Basics began producing and selling the Home design on T-shirts and hoodies, nearly 11,000 pieces. Local stores stocked the wares, and sports celebrities, including Major League Baseball player Eric Byrnes, could even be seen wearing the design on TV.
“We hit a home run with the Home. That is when our company became legitimate,” Anger said. “Things started blossoming.”
It Began With a Bear
Tahoe Basics was born out of one part necessity and two parts activism. Anger, who had a personal chef business at the time, was looking for napkins he could use for his cooking gigs. The timing also coincided with a well-known bear being shot and killed on the West Shore
The incident upset Anger, and he wanted to do something proactive. Again while on the move, this time trail running, he came up with the phrase “Keep Tahoe Bearable.” He thought he could do a run of T-shirts and give proceeds to the Homewood-based BEAR League. After doing some research and finding they had to form a company to make the product and protect the copyright, Anger proposed five names to friends and Tahoe Basics was the winner. The name was registered, and they started printing tees and paper napkins with the Bearable slogan and two bears inset into a Lake Tahoe outline.
“Our company came from unfortunate circumstances,” said Anger, who owns the company with his wife, Tracy Voelker. “We started coming up with ideas. Next thing you know, we just stumbled into a company.”
And because Tahoe Basics was founded on giving back, Anger and Voelker keep adding Tahoe-based nonprofits to their growing list of beneficiaries every year. While the Bear League was the first nonprofit to receive love from Tahoe Basics, other organizations include the Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center, Shane McConkey Foundation, Achieve Tahoe, and Tahoe SAFE Alliance (which was absorbed into Sierra Community House in 2019).
“We have members and supporters all around the world, and they proudly wear their Bearable T-shirts and display their bumper stickers,” wrote Bear League Executive Director Ann Bryant in an email to Moonshine Ink. “It’s been an amazing campaign, and we are very grateful that Randy joined our Bear Team.”
Anger said giving to his neighbors “is an important part of the company.” It is common for Anger to make late-night donations to local GoFundMe campaigns, and he and Voelker have fed the healthcare professionals in the emergency rooms at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno and Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee twice during COVID. Tahoe Basics also freely donates apparel to local fundraisers and causes.
“We do a lot of random acts of kindness. It is a very important part of why our company is so successful,” Anger said. “We do outreaches in all different facets. We will do anything if it is good for the community.”
On a ‘Steady Climb’
A true mom-and-pop business, Anger and Voelker run Tahoe Basics from their Agate Bay home. The couple comes up with original designs — 28 to date — and then have products printed at Silver Screen Printing in Reno. Ninety percent of the clothing they use is also bought from companies based in Reno. Anger then personally delivers his wares to nearly 40 stores around Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Truckee, and Reno.
“Our business model allows a lot of local companies to make a profit on our product. From print to final sale, our company is designed for everyone along the way to make a profit,” said Anger, who does all the orders, invoicing, and deliveries himself. “Numbers have gone up every single year in Tahoe Basics. Even with COVID, we have a 10 to 12 percent increase in sales. The company has been on a steady climb.”
Anger said 95 percent of Tahoe Basics is wholesale, but three years ago, the company began doing custom printing jobs for local businesses, including design.
Darin Pepin, who owns Pep’s Place in Tahoe Vista with his wife Kristen Pepin, began selling T-shirts and hoodies with the café’s logo on them this past spring. He chose Tahoe Basics to print his apparel because of Anger’s commitment to local sourcing, and his promptness.
“He invited us into his home for product selection. That personal touch is where he takes his business,” Darin said. “He is very community-oriented; that is the core of his principles.”
West Shore Market owner Chris Schuster agrees. Schuster has carried Tahoe Basic goods since their opening in 2015, and uses the company for its own apparel and glassware.
“He is pretty creative in his designs,” Schuster said of Anger. “He is thoughtful and mixes it up.”
While Anger and Voelker create the designs — sometimes as scribbles on bar napkins— they work with local graphic designers Allison Crookston, Bryn Merrill, and Scott Ackley to bring those designs to life. Jeff Schomberg, a Reno-based metal artist, does all of Tahoe Basics’ metal art.
A former Deadhead, Anger incorporates several iconic pop culture symbols into his creations, including The Beatles, Coca-Cola, and Tide. The most popular seller is the “Steal Your Lake” design, which uses the Grateful Dead’s “Steal Your Face” logo with Lake Tahoe inside the skull. Other hits include “Dark Side of the Blue,” which is a riff from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, and “Livin’ Lovin’ Tahoe,” taken from a Led Zeppelin song.
Tahoe Basics currently offers a variety of items, including T-shirts, hoodies, glassware, hats, beanies, onesies, cookie cutters, metal art, and custom cut address plates. Customers have come to love finding sale items at Anger and Voelker’s yard sale at their home over the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Memorial Day holiday weekends.
Anger gives credit to the success of Tahoe Basics to his long-time supporters.
“We have an awesome following of clients and friends who love our products,” Anger shared proudly. “The local stores that carry our product and our loyal customers are the backbone of our company.”