"I love seeing new restaurants and little shops pop up that are, you know, just local people from around here."
It’s indeed a rare thing to find your life’s passion at a young age. Dallas native and graphic design whiz-kid, Tyler Rice of AxelRad Screen Printing in Wilkes-Barre did just that right out of high school. At 18, he went to work designing t-shirts and marketing material for a local ad agency. He flipped that natural talent into a (sort of) paid internship at AxelRad. Tyler helped out in the shop between hours at his “real” job. They paid him in free t-shirts.
Tyler’s diligence soon bounced back tenfold. At 20, he officially joined the creative team (though he’s never been above sweeping a floor or folding a t-shirt or two). His is one of those old-fashioned “go-getter” stories – a kid who makes his own luck, an Augie March of our time, perhaps. He’s found a way to do what he loves, with good people and he gets paid for it (now with actual money, I suppose).
Tyler credits his small, albeit impressive, success story to family, to five similarly goal-oriented siblings, to loving, encouraging parents, to a community that unflinchingly views his success as its own. And he puts all of that into his work, and when he’s not working, he’s giving back. In the spring of 2020, during the height of the pandemic shutdown, Tyler and the AxelRad team created the Shirts Off Our Backs Movement. The insanely popular initiative raised nearly $90,000 for struggling local businesses.
Impressive, but still, he’s no Junebug (see below).
We caught up with Tyler at AxelRad’s brand new location on N. Washington St. in Wilkes-Barre. He waxed poetic about growing up in the Back Mountain, hangin’ at Sheetz and pondering life’s eternal queries. You know, like Why NEPA?
How long have you lived in NEPA?
My entire life. The full 29 years.
What do you love about your town?
I would have to say, it’s the sense of community. Dallas is a smaller town. You know everybody. And, coming from a larger family, I kind of know everybody and then some (laughs). You know, if I don’t know you personally, I guarantee that you probably know one of my siblings. There’s also a lot of history behind the town as well that has to do with my family. So, there are different parts of that town that kind of make it special for me.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
Oh man… that is a tough one (takes deep breath). Ok. Let me think… I had Shogun for lunch, so that’s kind of on my mind right now (laughs). So, I’m a big fan of like… wait (pensive pause). This really is tough. There are so many good spots around here. Ok. I guess it depends on what I’m feeling, you know? If I’m looking for authentic Mexican, I’m going to Margarita Azul. If I’m looking for like a date spot, I’m going to The Beaumont. Bank & Vine is incredible. They have a great, local chef who graduated a few years ahead of me at Dallas. Man, there are so many great spots. I know you’re not going to let me off the hook here (laughs). I’m going to go with Marty’s Blue Room. Yeah. That’s it. I’m a meat eater to my core. So, anywhere that serves a massive Tomahawk is ok in my book.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
Another tough one. Hmmm… I don’t really do anything other than work, so… (laughs). I love going out and checking out local music spots – back before… you know? I have a lot of friends in that scene and we’d always have somewhere to go and have a few drinks and check out new bands. And watching my friends perform, of course, was always a good time. River St. Jazz Café was my jam for the longest time. That was my spot – still is, actually. They’re opening back up. We’re all excited for that.
What’s next for you?
Ok, so we (AxelRad) just moved into this massive new building, which comes with a lot of stress and a bunch of other things. So, I guess my next goal is to kind of figure all this out and help create a work environment that everyone here can get super stoked on. You know, we’re always looking ahead toward more growth and taking things to another level. Personally, once I have my work life wrapped up, I’ll be looking to start working on getting a family together and raising some more Rice’s in the Back Mountain.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
I’m excited that with a new generation we’re going to start seeing NEPA become a little bit more of a trendier area. And that’s always been one of my biggest hopes for the region. I think we’re seeing a lot of growth. I love seeing new restaurants and little shops pop up that are, you know, just local people from around here. That kind of activity and growth gets people to focus more on small businesses and shopping local. And that’s exactly the kind of thing that creates a sense of pride in where you live.
It’s all really more about the people here than anything. I managed to be lucky enough to grow up in an amazing family. I was able to grow relationships with my siblings and friends that have made me not want to leave. You know? I’m really enjoying watching their families grow and watching their children grow up. I’ve also been fortunate to meet some of the best and hardest working people I know, and I consider myself so lucky to be able to match up with them here and to realize that we’re all doing it for the same reason. And I would never want to leave that. I’d rather work with people who are on the same page as I am and grow something to the next level.