WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — It all started six years ago with a couple of old license plates that were turned into an impromptu piece of art.
Nicole O’Brien made it for a friend.
“And they asked for another one,” she recalled.
Others thought it was pretty cool as well. Soon she was making the plates all over her house and selling them all around the world.
“In the basement. In the kitchen,” she said. “It drove my kids crazy.”
Demand outgrew her home, so she opened up a manufacturing spot in Warwick, and now through Dec. 23 there is a pop-up retail store for Unique Pl8z License Plate Art.
“I had no idea [it would get this big.]” O’Brien said. “Never intended it and quite frankly didn’t want it. And now I’m loving every second.”
She buys expired plates from around the country then cuts, bends and crafts them into various shapes, sizes and signs.
Think about it; You can spell anything with license plate letters, convey dates with the numbers and use the various symbols on the pieces as well.
Plus, O’Brien has turned combinations of plates into bird houses, wine bottle holders and even anchors and fish.
“It’s not just license plate art,” she said. “We’re telling a story through license plates.”
One customer who walked in demonstrated that, hoping O’Brien could tell a story with the more than 40-year-old plates that were on her father’s car.
“We’re very fond of my father who passed,’ she said. “And I have his old plates.”
The two metal rectangles she brought with her will be transformed into something softer.
“I just saw the hearts but I’m wondering if you can do something bigger.”
O’Brien has filled similar orders over the years.
“It’s just a unique way to pay him tribute,” O’Brien said. “That’s their way of remembering dad.”
She’s excited about the unexpected growth of her business, but this is not just about a graph on a chart.
Her husband is retired military. Her first full-time employee, Greg Blanchette, is retired National Guard. And she uses a number of part-timers for web graphics and writing gigs who are military spouses.
Plus, many of the customers are military as well, looking for a unique way to remember home or their journey from base to base.
Are you seeing a pattern?
“I want to be able to give back to the veteran community and also the military spouse community,” O’Brien added.
Blanchette points out that members of the military and veterans often miss the camaraderie of the service.
“It’s a little different from working at an office where no one really understands what you went through, what you could be going through,” Blanchette said. “My vision is right with hers, to just employ as many veterans as possible.”
O’Brien seconds that.
“It’s meeting people, it’s hearing their stories,” she said. “That’s what keeps me inspired and wanting to do more.”Email Walt at email@example.com with you story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.