Flagship stores dot the major shopping thoroughfares of the big cities of the world. Often they are distinguished as much by their size as by their distinctiveness – they are monolithic versions of their mall-based cousins. Yes, they may have a feature or two – a massive digital screen here, a café there – that separates the flagship, but essentially this is super-size retail and it is the scale that is impressive. Even Apple’s “significant stores” (their term for flagship) are as much about sheer size as they are about uniqueness. (Although no doubt both the architecture and finishes in an average Apple flagship are superior to the norm.)
So when I stumbled on a truly unique flagship on a recent trip to California, I was both delighted and charmed. Nestled in a reclaimed lumberyard at the entrance to the town of Mill Valley, outside San Francisco, is a store called “The Guideboat Co.”
Created by the founder of Restoration Hardware, Stephen Gordon, with the assistance of YouTube entrepreneur Chad Hurley, Guideboat is truly one-of-a-kind and a labor of love. The store builds a retail environment around the guideboat, a sleek and elegant fixed-seat rowboat, born in the 19th century on the glassy lakes of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.
Gordon had fond memories of guideboats from his childhood in the Adirondacks, and acquired a rare 1892 J. H. Rushton vessel a few years ago. From this purchase grew the idea for the store – which offers three handmade boats for sale (including a replica of the Rushton guideboat), as well as an eclectic selection of hand-picked product, from Kirby’s decking paint to Quoddy Maine Made deck shoes (that may never actually grace the deck of a boat.) The boats themselves are minor works of art, cherry-trimmed and finished with marine bronze fittings.