Though now known as the leading nautical book and chart store in New England, Armchair Sailor began life on a more modest scale. It was 1979 when Armchair Sailor first opened for business on Lee’s Wharf. Jimmy Carter was President and sideburns were all the rage when Ron Barr and his business partner Jane Parfet decided to set up a store dedicated to nautical books and charts.
Their first 2,000 titles focused on tales of the sea and sailing adventures for those in love with all things salty. The store adopted George Smith, the mythical character described in a Rockwell Kent book as its mascot. In the story Smith, a New York commuter, gives up his career to follow a dream and escape to the South Seas. Thus a business was born.
Since its cramped beginnings in a small storefront on Lee’s Wharf, Armchair Sailor has grown to become a leading chart agent for the major Hydrographic Offices providing paper and electronic charts to navigators worldwide. In addition, Armchair Sailor offers cruising guides, almanacs, flags, videos, travel books and all manner of navigational instruments.
During the 80’s Armchair Sailor grew its selection to over 5,000 titles, including nautical books, guides and a selection of rare and out of print books. The store even supplied charts and guides to the America’s Cup contenders when the series was held in Newport. Armchair Sailor was quickly making a name for itself in the nautical community.
In 1989, exactly one decade after it first opened, Armchair Sailor relocated to more spacious quarters in the Wellington buildings on lower Thames Street. The additional space was needed to display an ever growing selection of nautical books, charts and other items. This was also a time when electronic charting was starting to emerge as a powerful force in the evolution of navigation. Armchair Sailor led the way and was one of the first retailers to offer mariners expert advice concerning electronic navigation. The electronic revolution has progressed to the point where e-charts are now produced on the spot while the customer waits!
In June 2002 Armchair Sailor was purchased by Fort Lauderdale, Florida based Bluewater Books and Charts, also a nautical book and chart retailer. Since the change in ownership, Armchair Sailor has retained its name and character and has been able to add an even greater selection of titles and products. The store now boasts a selection of over 25,000 individual titles that can be purchased in store, over the telephone or on the web at www.bluewaterweb.com
June 2004 marks the 25th anniversary of Armchair Sailor. While the location and ownership have changed over the years, this wonderful store continues to provide the finest selection of nautical books in New England. If you visit the store don’t forget to look for George Smith, the quiet mascot who continues to expertly guide the operation.
To celebrate their 25th anniversary, the crew of Armchair Sailor are planning a number of special events during the summer. Armchair Sailor’s summer hours are 9 to 6 Monday through Saturday and 12 to 5 on Sundays.
- by Dave Kresge
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