Every boater who’s been at it long enough experiences the joy of discovery when entering a certain kind of marine consignment store. Sometimes, you enter casually, wiling away the afternoon on some charming waterfront drag and leaving with a barely used, $20 fender that’s exactly what you didn’t know you needed. Other times, you charge in with purpose, praying to the sea gods for a bronze porthole with the right measurements for a project going sideways. Ideally, good-natured haggling carves off a few bucks, and a dose of invaluable advice from the business owner—usually a bona fide boat owner as well, who embraces a likeminded parlance—sets you up for success before you race back to your boat with a newfound treasure in hand and a spring in your step.
The timeless prose of the Persian mystic Rumi comes to mind: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” These mom-and-pop shops are like the beloved greasy spoons that bring whole waterfront towns together. And sadly, across most of America, they seem to be in retreat. I write from Seattle, where we’ve seen the boarding up of storied boatyards, the eviction of waterfront tenants (in favor of condos) and, yes, the loss of a few independent marine supply stores.
But about a year ago, a stand was made in the small, waterfront town of Poulsbo, also known as “Little Norway,” to the west across Puget Sound. Avid boating couple Nico Jensen and Aaron Wenholz—a former nurse and a sailboat rigger living on one of their two wooden boats—faced the threat of closing their marine consignment and supply store, Longship Marine. Instead, today, the shop is doing better than ever at a bigger location. What was once a neighborhood church is becoming a cathedral.
On the frigid, gray February morning when I visited, a nervous but excited energy hung in the air. The new store had filled in nicely with marine gear ranging from brand-new foulies to an array of used anchors (never mind the odd bent fluke).
“These have been our best winter months ever,” the blonde-haired, bespectacled Wenholz says. “We’re still recovering from the four months we were closed last year when we were moving locations and reopening, but I think we’re set up for a big 2020.”
Longship Marine’s survival was not always so certain. In March 2019, the couple received a 30-day notice to vacate their old building up the street, which had been sold. According to Jensen, they seriously considered closing the store because of the struggle to find a new location. Fortunately, the owners of the original building also owned another building, and were willing to cut them a deal.
The new location is bigger and—while still a project in many ways—perfect. The cherry on top was the inclusion of the historic Old Grieg Hall Performance and Event Center on the second story. It will be fixed up into a combination venue and marine tenant space that can host boating education courses. While Longship Marine’s bread and butter is always going to be marine consignment and supplies, it is now also a boater’s one-stop shop for just about anything—even weddings.
A major challenge in getting to this point was moving all the merchandise, including anchor chain, mounting blocks, bronze fixtures and more. Miraculously, the power of dock talk helped. Dozens of boaters arrived unannounced, freely organized without social media groups or pay, to help with trucks, trailers and eager hands.
Wenholz and Jensen were grateful. They are no strangers to maritime-related projects; the two have lived on their wooden tugboat of 1930s vintage for years. After moving aboard, they learned during their first haul out in Port Townsend that the vessel had severe structural issues. She was completely rotted inside, and even needed the ribs to be replaced. Sane folks would’ve run, but these two tripled down, determined to make her a home.
Flash forward to today, and they have lived happily aboard the entire time. They just replaced the last few above-water planks and added new paint. Jensen is working on new cushions.
“I think our boating experience has brought the store-owning experience to a whole other level,” Wenholz says. “The ability to consult with people and understand the applications of the items through experience is very important.”
The couple loves working on boats, especially wood ones, so much so that they have an unofficial “Humane Society for Boats” mission to take in tired and abandoned boats, fix them up, and flip them for a modest profit. Their passion is to give boating gear and boats themselves second chances, not to mention sparing the oceans the waste of nautical flotsam and jetsam.
As far as what’s selling, receipts are about 75 percent consignment and 25 percent new products.
“I think this is because the quality of the used items we have has improved, and we price items reasonably so boaters can justify the purchase,” Jensen says.
The thrill of getting a bargain is an essential part of a great consignment-store experience. So is finding interesting things, such as a corner piled with wood pieces that shipwrights in Port Townsend salvaged.
“We also have a buddy who has old-growth teak and mahogany,” Jensen says. “Then we have an Alaskan yellow cedar source. One of our consigners barges it down from Alaska. He can do custom cuts and lengths. Another local guy has a stockpile of white oak.” Such is business when you’re so deeply connected to a niche boating community.
Nearby is the do-it-yourself table. When the store is open, you may see, for instance, a commercial fisherman reassembling a water pump. There’s no charge and no waiting list. The space is first come, first served.
Upstairs, the couple is working with a structural engineer to create the event space.
“There’s already some people contacting us, asking if our space is ready yet for weddings and even a memorial,” Jensen says. “Yoga teachers too.”
Wenholz adds with a chuckle, “A local artist is an advocate for us and, mostly, the space. He brings in musicians who are excited to play here.”
From the upper level, Longship Marine has an excellent view of Poulsbo Marina and the boats moored in Liberty Bay. Wenholz is keen to share it, and soon. “In some realms of life,” he says, “impatience is a virtue too.”