Florida Keys Business
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Boaters' bonanza
New West Marine location swells to 12,000 square feet of island essentials

It's open. And if you don't know where it is, then you haven't been anywhere near Caroline Street in recent months.

The new West Marine location looms high over the intersection of Caroline and Grinnell streets, standing sentinel over the waterfront neighborhood that watched it emerge from sunken pilings.

The boating supply store at 951 Caroline St. celebrated its grand opening last weekend. At 12,000 square feet, the new building dwarfs its predecessor that operated for 19 years just a few blocks down the street.

The old West Marine location at the corner of William and Caroline closed just days before its replacement opened.

The commute didn't change much for the company's 15 or so employees, who moved to the new location, but almost everything else did.

The new store is more than three times the size of the old one -- with expanded inventory in every department.

But it's all relative, and as large as the store appears in this small-boned community, it actually is an average size for the rest of the company's 300 or so other locations, General Manager Kevin Robertson said after directing a propeller-toting boater toward the service counter.

After pointing the man in the right direction amid the dizzying array of life jackets, lines, heads, hammocks, rods, reels and radios, Robertson spoke into his earpiece, giving the service counter specialist a heads up about the approach of the prop seeker.

"The West Marine superstores are 50,000 square feet," Robertson said. "Our main push with this new location is fishing, but really every department has been expanded."

He also emphasized the fact that one need not own a boat to find items essential to island living.

"Everyone needs flip flops, sun shirts, sunglasses, coolers, you name it," Robertson said. "And even though we're a chain, we really consider ourselves a local store and a part of the community."

Robertson is a native Floridian who worked down Caroline Street for eight years before taking over management of the new location. He said that the West Marine on Stock Island will remain open, and focuses more on industrial supplies for working boats and boatyards.

The spacious aisles and organized departments feature everything a boater wants -- along with the things he doesn't want, but needs nonetheless.

There are bundles of life jackets, cleats of all sizes, blocks and tackle, grills, hatches, heads, fighting chairs, reams of line and an arch of fishing rods, along with an entire clothing department in the front of the store.

The electronics department features working display models that encourage shoppers to push the buttons and squint at the screens as they will on the water.

From the sun-drenched fun supplies, to the industrially necessary, the new store is one of the biggest additions to Old Town in the past decade.

And despite some of the expected grumbling about its size, the store has already become a favorite Saturday stop -- especially on a rainy, summer day. If you can't be on a boat, then a long loop through West Marine may be the next best thing.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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