2017-08-03 / News

Rum Runner joins village business district

Embroiderer opens shop at former hair salon location

Kerry Sheehan is busy embroidering Tuesday afternoon at his new shop next door to Kristine Trocki’s law office. He previously operated out of his Columbia Avenue home. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Kerry Sheehan is busy embroidering Tuesday afternoon at his new shop next door to Kristine Trocki’s law office. He previously operated out of his Columbia Avenue home. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN While the sign hanging from 38 Narragansett Ave. is a fresh sight for the village, the name engraved across the logo is familiar to anyone who’s bought a T-shirt in town.

Rum Runner Silk Screening & Embroidery opened next door to Kristine Trocki’s law office in the space formerly operated by Anita Haircut. Although the shirts and hats flaunted in the picture window resemble a retail store, owner Kerry Sheehan is using his new spot for production and office space.

“It’s not really retail,” he said. “Maybe next year I’ll do a little something.”

Until his move in early July, Sheehan operated the embroidery company from his house on Columbia Avenue, but relocated to the village so he could rent his house. All of the embroidery for the company’s shirts, hoodies and baseball caps is completed on-site, just like at Columbia Avenue. The silk-screening, however, continues to be outsourced because of space constraints.

Sheehan began embroidering in the mid-1990s as a business partner of New England T-Shirtery, a wholesale shop at 47 Conanicus Ave. that he operated with Michael Shorrock. He was drawn to the work because of his passion designing logos.

“That’s always been my creative part of the business,” he said. “I’ve always had a bit of an eye for graphics. I enjoy doing the artwork.”

Although the shop was opened with wholesaling in mind, the pair expanded to retail. That venture, however, wasn’t as successful.

“Retail just wasn’t what it was,” he said.

When the business partners split, Sheehan continued hawking clothes as a wholesaler under the Rum Runner brand, although he doesn’t remember the impetus for the company name. Since then, he has become the top choice in town for printing and designing logos, most notably creating the souvenirs sold during the Jamestown First Day Plunge and Fourth of July fireworks. As a Rocket ’hog and plunge co-founder, Sheehan doubles as a volunteer organizer for those pastimes. Adding to his busy schedule, he also runs a construction company.

Part of Rum Runner’s appeal, Sheehan said, is his hands-on approach. Because he designs and embroiders on-site, his pricing can stay competitive with larger online companies like Teespring or CustomInk.

“I handle the garments and I do the actual work,” he said. “I’m more than competitive to anybody, whether off the island or on the Internet.”

When he started, Sheehan created shirts by heat transfer, but eventually switched to silkscreening because of its relative ease. This new process also lets him produce short runs for customers that only need a few shirts opposed to hundreds or thousands. These smaller orders were not cost-effective using heat transfer.

“Silk-screening has been around for a long time,” he said. “Like every industry, it’s improving.”

Similar to most embroidery businesses, Rum Runner does not manufacture the clothing or headgear. Instead, Sheehan purchases the products in bulk from his distributor and focuses on the design work, sometimes with a collaborator. For example, the Jamestown First Day Plunge typically features artwork designed by an outside artist, with graphics and wordmark designed by Sheehan. He also does the layout for the sponsor logos on the back.

Aside from designing the Tshirts and baseball caps seen throughout town, Sheehan recently branched out to include high-visibility safety wear for construction workers. Although still part of Rum Runner, he has been selling these garments under a separate branding, Safety 1 Apparel & Accessories.

“It was more to represent highway safety,” he said. “To call it Rum Runner was just wrong. Safety 1 seemed more appropriate.”

Regardless, that apparel still is available through the same channels as Rum Runner. Sheehan recently has worked out contracts with construction companies for hard hats, reflective vests, gloves and rain gear.

Although Rum Runner is not retail, Sheehan is glad to see the commercial district in town getting healthier. “Retail is tough,” he said, “I hope they do well. I think it’s wonderful that some of the empty spaces are getting filled.”

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