City Paper: So Grizzly, how'd you end up here?
Wheeler: I lived in Galveston about the last three years. We moved here a few weeks ago. But I was stationed here, in Charleston, when I was in the Coast Guard from 2002-05.
You met your wife here?
I met my wife online way back when it was kinda weird. It's not so weird anymore. It was definitely something you'd be a little hesitant about back then, but it's mainstream now.
Then you got out of the Coast Guard?
We ended up moving back to Florida. I wish we'd stayed here. I came back and visited some of my friends in 2012. I remember driving around and so much had changed. There's always been creatives here, but I guess I wasn't paying attention. On that visit though, I started to notice and it was like, whoa there's a lot of really amazing designers here.
I started looking online once we'd left and I started researching. I love Austin and Nashville, and there's great creative scenes. We were actually looking at moving to Austin, but for what I'm doing, it seemed that there were so many great print shops there, it'd be a little difficult to break in the market.
So back up, when you say print shop, what do you mean?
We mainly do T-shirts, we deal with anything print. Stickers to posters, anything that involves making screens. Going from working in the Coast Guard to being a print shop guy, how did that happen?
It was very random. I randomly met a designer. This was in a smaller country town in Florida. He started dealing with a lot of music industry things and he did screenprints. I got to know him and discovered that whole thing.
I played in bands when I was younger and I never thought about making band T-shirts myself. But when I met him, I started seeing how he was able to work with bands and creatives and I thought it was so amazing. I started seeing the process and researching for myself. He moved to Chicago, so I was left all alone to figure it out. I interned around 2011 in Orlando at a really popular print shop called Mama Sauce. They are a really amazing flat stock print shop, mainly posters and stuff. Then I stayed with it, because a lot of the stuff you'll learn on your own as you go. Around 2013 we moved to Texas and I kept going with it. But I still kept in the back of my mind, thinking like Charleston, Charleston. The rest is history.
Where did you move to?
We live in West Ashley right now. My shop is in Park Circle.
Where in Park Circle?
It's behind the Sparrow. There's a local street artist, Patch Whiskey, it's in the building where his murals are. A year ago, I started coming into town and Patch would have functions. I'd stay with my friends and I started taking shirts I'd made and going to local businesses I liked and just talking to them. I met some amazing local designers. I was able to start working with them on projects.
I'm working quite a bit with the artist Blake Saurez. He does amazing work. We've worked with Patch Whisky doing stuff for him. We're also constantly doing more stuff with Geechie Boy Mill — hats, stickers. Blake's got quite a few projects and sends stuff our way which is amazing. He just keeps getting busier and busier, which is awesome.
A lot of people have this dream of Charleston and then they realize our job market sucks, our housing costs are insane.
Yes, the housing costs are bad.
What's been the good and bad, coming back?
It's been going very good for the business and my wife is getting a job very soon in the medical field, which is very strong here. But yeah, it's been good for us so far. We just got here, but I think it helped that I've lived here before and I'm familiar with the layout and I have a good group of friends here already that have helped. I can make a phone call and get help.
The city is so different than what you lived in from 2002-05. Do you notice the differences a lot?
It is different. The traffic is a lot heavier than it was before. But I actually really enjoy it because it seems like there's a lot more to explore. When I was in the Coast Guard, I was in and out of town quite a bit so I didn't really pay attention as much because I was focused on what we were doing. I was only here about half the year.
How does it compare as far as size to Galveston?
It's probably about two or three times bigger than Galveston and there seems to be quite a bit more diversity here.
Yes, and in general like jobs and what not. Diversity of the commerce and the marketplace. Galveston is mainly tourism, straight up.
I think people think Charleston is mainly tourism.
I know it's a very big thing here, but there's a lot of other facets to this area, which, again, I wasn't paying attention to before — there's agriculture, there's the ports, there's lots of different things here and that's just in the city. You go out and there's manufacturing. There's a lot more resources here. It's not a huge L.A. or Chicago, but that's what I like about it. Living near Houston, it was a little too crazy for me. The traffic here is bad, but the traffic in Houston is insane.
I think a lot of times, even when we're being critical of ourselves, we forget to compare and contrast Charleston to other places. Like you said, our traffic is bad, but it's nothing compared to other places.
It's bad, but you don't have to like drive 30 or 40 miles through it. Houston is very industrial. Here you can see some industrial things, but it seems they've done a very good job of managing and trying to retain the natural beauty of the city. They don't do that in a lot of places. Instead, many places have completely given in to development and just totally forgotten and put aside nature. That's what's nice about here. They haven't completely forgotten it over money.
Some would argue we have.
I guess. I really appreciate it because I've lived in other places that aren't as beautiful as Charleston — they're too big, with too many people. Living here then leaving, I can appreciate it coming back. Traffic is traffic, there's always gonna be traffic — I guess until Google makes those self-driving cars and takes the human error out of it, but I really enjoy it.
So you feel like you made the right choice moving back?
Yes, absolutely. I can really appreciate it this time around where as a younger 20-something, I wasn't paying attention to it. Charleston is very peaceful to me. I know it has its issues, but it's nowhere near other cities. Nowhere close.