While working as a tour guide at Wonder World Cave & Adventure Park, Luke Merchant met Creighton Coyne, who not only became his friend, but also his business partner.

Merchant originally came up with SMTX Playing Cards, a deck of playing cards custom to the city of San Marcos, in 2021. Merchant explained his idea to Coyne, who he thought would see his vision, and the two got to work.

“We both thought that playing cards are a perfect medium because it sort of demands your attention—you can’t look away from it,” Merchant said.

Their business approach was to partner up with the businesses that would be on the cards and convince them it would be a great opportunity.

“Every time somebody engages with their card, it’s a recurring advertisement,” Merchant said. “So the more cards that we can get in front of people’s eyes, the more business can come their way and also telling them how positive the project is—celebrating San Marcos. And it’s including their business as this integral part of the city.”

While Coyne emphasized sponsorships did not affect the selection of businesses who were on the cards, Merchant added they felt they needed to showcase culturally critical places even if they did not sign up as sponsors for the cards.

“If Garcia’s or Herbert’s, for instance, didn’t want to participate in sponsoring, we couldn’t take it out because that wouldn’t be San Marcos anymore,” Merchant said. “So in a way, that integrity sort of made the process harder. There were a lot of times we were just thinking, ‘How are we going to raise this amount of money?’ We felt like we had talked to everybody, but we just kept at it.”

At its core, SMTX Playing Cards is an art project, Merchant said. But as it overlaps with business interests, the idea began to catch on.

It took about a year and half to capture the photos that went on the cards, including designing the back of the card. The back of the cards was designed by local artist Rene Perez and has elements that reflect key parts of the city.

“It’s really fun to see the positive feedback from the city because on all fronts, people have loved the project because it celebrates the town they love—and that was our intention,” Merchant said.

Purchase SMTX Playing Cards at any one of these San Marcos locations.

• Alvin Ord’s, 204 University Drive

• Don Japanese Kitchen, 829 N. LBJ Drive

• Jo’s Cafe, 310 Mary St.

• The Native Blends, 309 N. Edward Gary St.

• Old Soul Exchange, 123 S. LBJ Drive

• Price Center & Garden, 222 W. San Antonio St.

• Wake the Dead Coffee House, 1432 Old RR 12

SMTX Playing Cards