FAU Landmark It's Owl Time to Close
A silver sharpie, a navy-blue painted eastern shop wall, and FAU Basketball's all-time leading scorer.
On March 23rd, 2013, the three made history as Greg Gantt autographed a portion of that wall at Mark Noll's newly opened It's Owl Time vision - an FAU themed merchandise storefront that has since housed the largest selection of FAU Owls gear on the planet.
That act started a tradition, and springboarded Noll's store into becoming an FAU landmark.
Exactly seven years later, Noll (photo above) has announced that the walls of the business, which have now been signed by FAU legends such as Howard Schnellenberger, Lane Kiffin, Rusty Smith, Alfred Morris, and Devin Singletary, will be painted over in the coming months as It's Owl Time will close its doors for good amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The small business venture born from within the heart of a die-hard Owl fan and alumnus has become a daily touch point for the FAU community, especially via social media at @ItsOwlTime.
Noll says that he first got the idea of an FAU themed store after visiting a University of Florida version in Gainesville, FL.
Fresh off the Owls 59-20 defeat by the No. 14 Gators in 2007, he was forced ito an establishment that was furnished floor-to-ceiling in Gator gear. Surrounded by blue and orange, he paced down the aisles amazed while thinking how special it would be if FAU also had an off-campus store decked in school spirit.
After parting ways with a major corporation in 2008 due to the Great Recession, he then put the wheels in motion to make that very thought a reality.
Starting small, he opened an online-only store in 2010 with three products: sun glasses, flip-flops, and beach towels.
"Those were the only things I could resell with the FAU logo. It was 'FAU Paradise' gear", Noll recalls.
While selling FAU themed beach gear for a school that is only 1.8 miles from the beach was clever, it was too niche to keep him busy enough to be satisfied.
After receiving the official licensing needed to make his own gear with the FAU logo, he then made room in his house for screen-printing machinery, allowing him to expand his online store to include t-shirts, polos, and hats.
But it was not until January, 2013, when he saw an empty storefront on the South side of 20th Street, less than a half mile away from campus, that his dream conceived five years before in Gainesville was born.
On March 23rd, 2013, the Grand Opening of It's Owl Time saw the likes of friends, family, students, and Owls fans from all walks of life. Photos of the event can be found here.
But one guest was different than the rest: FAU Basketball star Greg Gantt.
Wanting to capture the presence of those involved in FAU Athletics, Noll bought a silver sharpie in hopes that athletes and coaches would not mind signing the wall by the storefront's entrance.
Gantt was happy to oblige.
"It was an honor, I've always had respect for Mark and his vision of creating a more 'fan feel environment' for FAU, and respecting the alumni - especially in the athletic department", said Gantt of the experience.
Word got around to former FAU linebacker Cergile Sincere, who added his name to the wall. And then came President MJ Saunders, Mike Jarvis, and Howard Schnellenberger. Before he knew it, an FAU tradition was born.
"It didn't have to be a famous athlete. It could be a student-athlete, no matter the program. I am so happy to see that year-after-year they would be excited to sign my wall - to be a part of the community."
Noll quickly branded the freshly inked portions of his store The FAU Wall of Fame, and every year began to be better than the previous. And as the store grew, the available space on the wall shrank. Business was good, but it could have been better.
Then came the hiring of former Coach Lane Kiffin. Within in a matter of months, the polarizing coach's addition to the university community catapulted the FAU Football program, and the It's Owl Time store.
"Winning helps everything. Going from three to eleven wins in one year, that changed everything", Noll said.
Even before Kiffin coached his first game at FAU, Noll noticed that things were different. The 2017 season opener, a nationally televised Friday night tilt against the Naval Academy, stands as the best sales day in the store's history.
"We had lines out the door, it was incredible!", said Noll.
Two years later, UCF came to Boca Raton as the first top-25 team to face the Owls at home. Despite having his store closed for the first two days of the week due to Hurricane Dorian, that week saw more business than any other. It's Owl Time was so cemented as an FAU institution, UCF fans would come in to see the merchandise and comment on their jealousy that Orlando lacked a store like that.
And just as quickly as Kiffin's introduction propelled the store to new heights, COVID-19 has since brought the store down to levels not seen before.
When customers asked for his two cents on the virus, Noll would say "the virus will not put us out of business, but the panic will."
That panic became a reality when the university announced that the remainder of the semester will be taught online. Then came the news that all Spring sports would be suspended.
"I started to seriously think about it at that moment. About 95% of my clientele are now gone", commented Noll.
The decision by FAU to cancel all Spring sports was the straw that broke the camel's back.
"It then became a simple decision at that point," Noll explained. "Let me go out with my head up, and be thankful for the opportunity to live this dream."
Save for a philanthropic miracle, It's Owl Time will close its doors around mid-May. All the items not sold by then will go online. Once an item is out of stock online, it's out of stock for good. Eventually, the website will close as well, although there is no time table for that yet.
We asked Noll what FAU fans can do to help soften the difficult decision to liquidate, and eventually close, what has been a passion and daily calling for him for the past seven years.
"I know it's a lot to ask - especially with what is going on right now - but if they want to come into the store, say hello, buy a mug, I will be there", replied Noll. "Go online, buy a decal, they will be there."
But it is the daily visits from patrons that Noll said he will miss the most - those during which he shared FAU's story and history - especially to prospective students.
"The door (in the store) closes slowly, so the best part was when the those kids would leave, you could hear them say to each other 'that place is awesome' as the door shut behind them."
As a Florida Atlantic University landmark down the 20th Street corridor eventually departs the landscape, it will likely be with tear-fiiled eyes for those who have become a fan of Noll's first class hospitality and investment in personal relationships with his customers.
And it is not only Noll's direct customers who will be appreciative of the last seven years. His support through financial investment in the students who have worked for The Owl's Nest is unparalleled. They would not be where they are without his support and partnership. In addition, his in kind product offerings have provided a multitude of members joy after winning contests he has sponsored through the years.
"Owls helping Owls, that's what it's was about", said Noll.
"Being able to talk to students of different backgrounds, athletes, parents, coaches, what a privilege that was!"
They will all miss you, Mark.