Discover the magic!

The Olde Towne experience has been treasured by visitors the world over-an opportunity to shop our fine antique shops, visit our galleries and unique specialty stores, enjoy excellent dining, both indoors and out in one of our many fine restaurants and pubs. Discover all of the magic yourself.
Discover Olde Towne Portsmouth!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Shopping Olde Towne Portmouth; Skipjack Nautical Wares & Marine Gallery is Everything Nautical

Skipjack Nautical Wares & Marine Gallery storefront next to the Hog Island
Lighthouse lens on the Elizabeth Riverfront in Olde Towne Portsmouth, VA.

Tell us about your business. 

Skipjack Nautical Wares & Marine Gallery is an upscale retail store located on the waterfront in historic Olde Towne Portsmouth. Our store's gallery offers a focused collection of authentic maritime antiques, fine original marine art and prints, folk and sailor art and sculptures and represents over two dozen marine artists from around the world. Skipjack also offers custom nautical furniture and furnishings, ship and table lighting, ship models, marine instruments, Chelsea clocks and barometers and authentic ship salvage: everything from floors to doors!

Skipjack's Chelsea room featuring nautical antiques, marine art
and Chelsea marine clocks and barometers.

Our Skipjack nautical accessories department features traditional yachting apparel with our own SKIPJACK NAUTICAL WEARS BRAND clothing, nautical/coastal inspired jewelry, quality nautical decor items and great gifts too! We even have a nautical pet section to dress up your salty dog! People also love our own SKIPJACK BRAND products made right here in Olde Towne Portsmouth. Skipjack is considered by many to the most unique and diverse nautical store anywhere in the world!

Skipjack Nautical Wears Brand boating-yachting apparel.

Tell us your Story.

Before Alison and I were together, I had sailed through the British Virgin Islands with a group of dive buddies and as part of the adventure, had the opportunity to visit a wonderful store with a selection of yachting apparel and  nautical inspired gifts, beautifully displayed in a showroom using authentic nautical shipboard items, cased ship models and original marine art as props. I loved the concept and their high quality yacht clothing was exceptional, but none of the fixtures, models and art on display were for sale. So, the original concept was born; to create a store that would feature our own brand of nautical apparel and yachting accessories together with the best nautical antiques, marine art, furnishings and decor where it would all be for sale.

Alison, my wife and business partner grew up in a world of classic motor and sailing yachts, so boating and everything nautical was a large part of her upbringing. My interest in the business came more from working in my college years and thereafter in fine men's apparel. Later in life I owned  a business dealing in fine american antiques and interiors. This included some maritime-related antiques and  period marine art. Our worlds came together from a mutual interest in underwater archaeology where we worked as divers on shipwreck projects with archaeologists in different parts of the world.

After working on a  project off the coast of England (the Great Storm of 1703 wrecks), we flew back via a short stop in Florida to see Alison's family. Her father knew of a great nautical salvage  yard he thought we would enjoy visiting.  We met the business owner and a year later we were back, this time on our first buying trip for what would soon become Skipjack Nautical Wares.  The business was launched in 2003 in an old building near the oceanfront on the southside of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Tell us about the history of Skipjack.

We opened the doors to Skipjack in the late spring of 2003 after several really hard months of renovation of an old building that was originally part of a railroad station and was also the first location for WRV, the famous surf shop Wave Riding Vehicles. After a couple years of start up and trial business, we decided to relocate Skipjack to a town that was more in keeping with what we were about, a historic seaport with a lot of maritime history and a great selection of like-kind businesses such as antique shops, art galleries, etc. Our original and top choice was Annapolis, Maryland, but we found the rent to be way above our comfort level and current ability to pay. Having raised the question of relocating Skipjack, a few of our customers had suggested that we consider Olde Towne Portsmouth as a viable location and one that matched our wish list.

Our first Skipjack Nautical Wares was located on
Norfolk Avenue, southside Virginia Beach.
We drove around and toured the Olde Towne area. The opportunity here seemed like it could work. The Olde Towne/Downtown area had a lot to offer with a number of museums in walking distance, a nice selection of quality antique shops, art galleries and other specialty stores, and best of all, it was one of Virginia's and our country's most historic seaports!

The CSS VIRGINIA  was built here at the Gosport navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia.
We interviewed a number of the store owners for their feedback on business in Portsmouth. Though the reviews were mixed, it did seem that there was a grand vision for the future of Olde Towne and it looked like a good investment and a new home for Skipjack.

We placed our Virginia Beach home on the market and started shopping around for a location for our new store. After a month's tme of searching, we found a property that had been listed on Portmouth's Economic Development website and called to see if it was still available. Apparently, the listing had run out and the property owner had chosen to take it off the market, but he would still entertain serious offers. We negotiated a workable deal, sold our home in Virginia Beach and bought the building of choice on the 600 block of High Street.

Srorefront picture of Skipjack Nautical Wares
first Olde Towne location , 629 High Street.
Again, after nearly 6 months of heavy renovation, we finally opened Skipjack Nautical Wares in the early fall of 2005 on the first floor of the building and continued renovating the second floor which had become our new residence. We loved the building, it was the perfect location for us and the 600 block of High Street was the center of retail for the downtown area. Living above the store certainly had its ups and downs, but for the most, we loved living downtown. It was a short walk to a number of great restaurants, the Commodore Theatre, the riverfront, and fun events. We became members of the Olde Towne Business Association and got to meet the business members of our new community. Life was good. Business was good. We had found our new home, our business was growing and we loved it!

Interior picture of Skipjack's first  Olde Towne store.

2007 brought the beginnings of an economic downturn and we certainly felt the pinch, then the year ended in disaster. The Zion Baptist Church, located in buildings next to us and behind us caught on fire the night of December 20 and our building was damaged by the event. To make matters worse, we were told throughout the day by the deputy Fire Marshall that they were not going to harm our building and planned to assist us in getting out our personal and store property. That never happened. Eventually we were told that the city planned to tear down the remains of the church structure that was so severely damaged and stood in harm's way, but our building would remain untouched. The next few hours brought us to our knees when the city hired a demolition company and without any discussion or prior notice, tore into the remaining church structure and proceeded to destroy our building with everything in it. Both our business and residence with all of our store inventory that had survived completely unharmed and all of our personal property that included rare, museum quality period American furniture and fine art, and just about everything else that we owned was demolished. We were wiped out!

The remains of our building after demolished by demolition company
 hired by the City of Portsmouth. Photo courtesy of the Virginian Pilot.

Through the kindness of the residents of Portsmouth and the rest of Hampton Roads, old customers, personal friends and family members, financial assistance came to us from personal donations, fundraisers and an auction that helped us get back on our feet and begin to start over.

Finally, after nearly a half year of being kept off of our property, I decided to start excavating the property and hoperfully recover whatever we could that the demolition followed by the winter and spring weather hadn't already destroyed. If the city manager was going to have me arrested for being on our own property and for trying to recover what was ours, then so be it. We had been through enough and we needed closure in this and move on. Fortunately, they left me alone and with help from friends and neighbors, we moved what little remained of the demolished structure, brick by brick, and uncovered what we could. The bright spot was when Alison's diamond engagement ring was uncovered as we sifted through the mounds of dirt and debris.

Excavating the remains of  our old building. The Zion Baptist Church
bell tower still stands in the background. Photo courtesy of the Virginian Pilot.

2008 was a year of renewal and we had to rebuild Skipjack from virtually nothing. Fortunately, we had created great relationships in the past and many of our old suppliers helped restock the shelves and new relationships brought in even more. After months of searching for a new location to house our store, we finally found an interesting location right on Olde Towne's riverfront, next to the High Street landing and the Hog Island lighthouse lens pavilion, with unbelievable views of the Elizabeth River and the shipyards located directly across the river. Again, after considerable renovations of the building and storefront -- and with incredible help from friends and family, we reopened in October of 2008, at 1 High Street in the historic Seaboard Railway Building.

Skipjack Nautical Wares is located on the riverside of the
historic Seaboard Railroad Building at High Street Landing.

Since then, we have rebuilt our store and added the marine gallery as well as added a custom framing shop (thanks Barb!) and numerous new products that are made right here in Olde Towne and in our Skipjack studio.

Chelsea clocks & barometers  and marine instruments at Skipjack Nautical Wares.
Life has not been easy for us since our beginnings in Virginia Beach, but we have to the best of our ability, steered the course and weathered the storms as they blow. Hopefully, life will be a little easier and smoother sailing ahead!

What's with the name Skipjack?

We wanted a name for our business that was both maritime and Chesapeake Bay. The Skipjack that we refer to in our business name comes from the traditional fishing boat used on Chesapeake Bay for oyster dredging. It is a sailboat which succeeded the bugeye as the chief oystering boat on the bay, and remains in service due to laws restricting the use of powerboats in oyster fishery.

The skipjack arose near the end of the 19th century. Dredging for oysters, prohibited in 1820, was again made legal in 1865. Boats of the time were unsuitable, and the bugeye developed out of the log canoe in order to provide a boat with more power adapted to the shallow waters of the oyster beds.

A Skipjack under full sail.
The bugeye was originally constructed with a log hull, and as the supply of appropriate timber was exhausted and construction costs rose, builders looked to other designs. They adapted the sharpies of Long Island Sound by increasing the beam and simplifying the sail plan. The result was cheaper and simpler to construct than the bugeye, and it quickly became the predominant oystering boat in the bay.

Debate remains to this day about the origins of the name. Some speculate it came from a name New England fisherman called the flying fish, bonita. Still others claim it is derived from an archaic English term, meaning an "inexpensive yet useful servant."

At one time, the number of skipjacks produced is estimated at approximately 2,000; today, they number about 40, with less than half of them in active fishing.

What is one product you carry that every customer should know about?

That's a tough question. I guess the one major product that we produce are our custom made ship's grate furniture, made with authentic (usually teak) vintage grates recycled from old ships. We produce these into all types of tables and have had customers order these from as far away as Australia. We even produced one for a naval officer and was used in the White House. Custom ship's grate furniture.

What is one service that you offer that your customers should know about?

Most of our Hampton Roads customers are not aware that we have a custom framing department for our marine prints or your own art with a large selection of frame samples to choose from.  We also have a custom lamp and lampshade department and create a wide variety of nautical themed lamps from authentic shipboard and other nautical items. Our nautical chart lampshades are a great product for the coastal home and are available in standard and custom sizes. Nautical navigational chart lampshade.

Custom framing department at Skipjack Nautical Wares, Portsmouth, Virginia.

Any last thoughts to share?
After the fire, we considered moving Skipjack to a different town in a different state, but we decided to stay and continue to invest our time, energy and money in the town that we love, and with the people that we love here in Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia. We have unfortunately been fighting against hard economic times the last few years and Olde Towne lost a number of small retail businesses due to it. But we all have a vision for what  Olde Towne could be, should be and we truly believe it's the right place to be!

Enjoy the small town pace and the Olde Towne lifestyle.

Skipjack Nautical Wares & Marine Gallery 
One High Street, Suite 3 (facing the riverfront)
Olde Towne - Portsmouth, Virginia 23704
Skipjack Webstore
OPEN 24-7

LATITUDE: 36.83487 LONGITUDE: -76.296412

Tuesday - Saturday, 10am - 5pm
Additional hours available by appointment 

Monday - Saturday, 10am - 5pm
Sunday, 1pm - 4pm
Additional hours available by appointment 


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Olde Towne Portsmouth; Every Day Is Small Business Day

Anderson-Wright is an example
of the unique shops in Olde
Towne Portsmouth, VA.
O.K., hopefully you have seen advertised during the past few years; a campaign promoting Small Business Saturday, the Saturday that follows Thanksgiving requesting your support of local small stores as a consideration to your holiday shopping experience.  That’s great and kudos to American Express for getting behind this and for marketing to all the need to support your local small businesses. But for small business communities like ours, we simply cannot survive on the once a year marketing program or the occasional local "city held" events to bring people downtown, to shop, dine and experience our quaint historic seaport and hopefully frequent our businesses enough to keep our doors open and stay in business. So, if you haven’t heard this stated before then I’ll state it again: we the small business owners, the mom-and-pop shops and restaurateurs that make up our city's downtown are in business everyday and every day is a small business day.

"When you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than nationally owned businesses, ... you strengthen the economic base of the your community.”

Unique shops and specialty stores are the staple of Olde Towne Portsmouth shopping experience.

This blog is written to help support the entrepreneurs, the small businesses that are the engine of our local and national prosperity and a proud reflection of Olde Towne Portsmouth and our Nation’s character. “From our unique mom-and-pop storefront shops that anchor High Street and offer unique merchandise or special services customers can't find in big box stores to the chef or family owned and managed restaurant that brings to you an exceptional dining experience. Many of the dollars spent here in small businesses stay in our own town, supporting our schools, police and fire department and creating community. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of our Nation’s promise.

Brutti's Restaurant is one example of the fine dining establishments
that no longer resides here in Olde Towne Portsmouth.

Since the economy began to decline a few years ago, we have watched small businesses that our neighborhoods relied on struggle and then close. Many just closed overnight. I stopped by a favorite local restaurant to find huge “out of business” stickers posted all over the door - they just couldn't make ends meet, so their debtors came and shut them down. I direly miss our former shops and galleries now gone who took such pride in their businesses and marketed themselves with such enthusiasm. I miss the local wine and cheese shop and the natural foods store which brought amazing products that could not be bought in a grocery store. I miss the extraordinary art galleries and antique shops that once lined High Street in abundance that are now faint memories of our past.  

"First Friday" was a monthly
event designed to promote Olde
Towne's unique shops and
Olde Towne’s “First Friday”, a monthly event fashioned by a local art gallery owner, created an opportunity for the small retail shops to stay open at night together and an opportunity for shoppers to frequent the stores during the evening hours. Art galleries promoted show openings; others offered light fare and specials for the wandering shopper. This was the type of thinking that made Olde Towne great and brought attention to our community. Unfortunately, the gallery is gone and so are most of the participants that were the staples of the event. But these are the kinds of businesses that help form and bring together communities, but the only way they can survive is if local consumers are aware of how important it is that, when we are able to buy, we buy locally. When small businesses do well, communities flourish and our economy will grow.

So, this blog will feature over time all of the locally owned retail businesses and restaurants that exist within the downtown/Olde Towne business district. You will read about what makes them unique,  about products and services that can only be found here in Olde Towne. You will discover through these pages the Olde Towne restaurants and what makes them special. These articles will be the key to this blog and hopefully you will discover for yourself the magic that they bring to our Olde Towne Portsmouth- the magic they bring every day to Olde Towne!