|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.
|The CSS VIRGINIA was built here at the Gosport navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia.|
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.
|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.|
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.|
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
LATITUDE: 36.83487 LONGITUDE: -76.296412
PORTSMOUTH SHOWROOM HOURS
JANUARY thru APRIL:
Tuesday - Saturday, 10am - 5pm
Additional hours available by appointment
MAY thru DECEMBER:
Monday - Saturday, 10am - 5pm
Sunday, 1pm - 4pm
Additional hours available by appointment
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