Get them while they’re hot!

Meat-netting hangs from the ceiling. Butcher paper falls neatly from a long blade yielded by a Bucktown princess. And to unsuspecting customers, the Jay’s chips neatly lined up in front of windows complete the illusion — but don’t expect a ham sandwich and dill pickle here.

This is a deli. This is a T-shirt deli. This is the T-shirt Deli, a few blocks off the Damen blue line El stop in the quickly-gentrifying neighborhood, at 1739 N. Damen Ave.

Against posh boutiques and the lesser-known Milwaukee Avenue thrift stores sits this small shop allowing those with a clever mind, a flair for originality or even a love for Nixon to reclaim their Urban Outfitted chest with some creativity.

And instead of turkey or ham in the glass deli case, American Apparel T-shirts are neatly rolled, ready to be weighed out (actually, no weight is involved), pressed and made into a shirt using the following ingredients: Letters that sell for a dollar a piece and decals that sell for nine bucks. The T-shirts, which come in several colors and styles, range from $15 to $22.

And while it may cost a lot to buy an “I lost my Sidekick, too” T-shirt, at least you aren’t paying for a shirt that might as well say “N is for Not Original.” Furthermore, the T-Shirt Deli is not overcharging you for a piece of sweat-shop cotton — the American Apparel Web site retails their American-made T-shirts for the same prices.

The hardest part about the whole process is deciding what exactly is worth putting on your chest without looking like you tried too hard. The store contains five pages of decals ranging in everything from kitschy Kennedy contrast-prints to a sparkly pink skull-and-cross-bone design.

But the real fun of the T-shirt Deli comes in the possibilities using 26-letters. For instance, order something ultra-progressive for the Northwestern crowd. Take a break from Diversity of Life, log on to and spell out “I Skipped Class.”

You’ll save the El ride, the T-shirt will still come wrapped in butcher paper, but you’ll probably lose your dignity.

The T-Shirt Deli’s hours are 12 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, 12 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 12 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The store is closed on Mondays.

–Kurt Soller