Stepping into Graphic Expressions, it’s hard to not feel pride for our home state. The walls are filled with t-shirts sporting town names such as Saunderstown, Chariho, Exeter, East Matunuck and Block Island, along with phrases like “Welcome to South County.” Sweatpants with “Kingston” proudly printed down the side are held on a stand and toddler-sized tops bearing drawings of beaches are stacked on tables. Blank hats, aprons and jackets accompany every type of t-shirt you can imagine, ready to be printed to your taste.
“Our niche is that you can get things here that you can’t find elsewhere,” says owner Wayne Cahoone, telling me about open-bottom sweatshirts and full-zip hoodies. We met at the counter, behind which piles and piles of fabrics await decoration and a designer is hard at work on the computer, fiddling with words in the shape of a lightbulb.
I can’t help but let my eyes wander around the walls, which are covered in quotations – wise words from Eleanor Roosevelt, Buddha, Voltaire, Mark Twain, Martin Luther King Jr. and, my personal favorite, a large quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson right next to the front door. Both bright and classic colored clothing is spread over every other free space.
While he does serve some tourists, Wayne does not target this easy crowd; his main customers are the locals. Proof of this lies in shirts with names such as Bonnet Shores, Green Hill and Snug Harbor, places only a true Rhode Islander would know. Still, he tells me the most popular items are his Narragansett gear.
“But, as long as you have a computer file, we can print it,” Wayne says. Digital printing can be done in as quickly as 15 minutes – perfect for those lastminute gifts and more personal than a Dunkin Donuts gift card. There are even tiny shirts tailored for pets.
The majority of his business comes from bulk orders, though. He supplies the t-shirts for Alan Shawn Feinstein’s “Feinstein Junior Scholar” program, which serves around 150 schools, and he also contributes to the URI bookstore and organizations at Brown University.
It’s no surprise that Wayne Cahoone is a Rhode Islander through-and-through. He tells me that his family came here in the 1660s and were among the original settlers on Block Island. Wayne was born in Wakefield and grew up on Point Judith, later joining the Narragansett Fire Department. About 20 years ago, he retired and opened Graphic Expressions in the basement of Wakefield’s Sweenor’s Chocolates.
In 1999, he bought the block of buildings where Graphic Expressions is now located. Standing in his office, he can see that same house he was born in through the window.
I’m led downstairs, where five workers are stationed and a large heat press rotates in a circle, churning out up to 700 pieces an hour. I walk by large boards, tables, boxes and the smaller manual press to the next room, where the embroiderer is hard at work. Spools of colored thread fill the walls and poster boards are piled on the next table, where custom signs are made.
Graphic Expressions is a factory and retail store all-in-one. Complex sewing machines and heat presses are consistently at work downstairs, while customers are met with enthusiasm at the storefront upstairs. Whether you need to outfit a baseball league, are searching for a unique present, or simply want a fun new t-shirt, this store can do it all.
254 Robinson Street, Wakefield. 782-1660.