Photos Andy Calvert
The Canoe House
“Somewhere between fly rods and earrings, that’s where The Canoe House gravitates,” Ashley Fricks beams over her shoulder as she turns to greet a customer. Friday afternoon and the traffic in this eclectic adventure retailer is a steady flow; within an hour the shop sells a range of products, from camping equipment to women’s apparel, to a range of customers as varied as their products. The store is a feast for the senses in its décor, layout, and products that lend an experience in and of itself.
The open ceiling highlights charred rafters, remnants from a fire that nearly took the block decades ago. Wall-mounted canoes and kayaks playfully serve as a backdrop to the rustic and modern vibe throughout the store. Antler chandeliers and black modern track lighting draw attention to the rich collection of textures that ebb and flow throughout the displays.
Local art, children’s clothing and toys, women’s apparel and accessories weave perfectly into menswear, adventure gear, fly fishing essentials, and unique gifts in an organic cohesiveness.
More than an Outfitter?
“A common misconception is that we only sell canoes and kayaks,” Brandon Williams says as he gestures to the boats that hang from the walls and rafters. “But in truth, we are so much more than an outfitter. There is a reason we didn’t put outfitter in our name; we didn’t want to narrow ourselves down and be labeled as just ‘a gear shop’ or just ‘a fly shop’ that might not interest everyone. So while we do offer the knowledge and experience on the outdoor side of things, we also have goods that attract a much wider range.”
Fricks adds, “We would often go to places like that and I would rather just stay in the car because I knew there would be nothing in there for me.” The Canoe House endeavors to be different. It aims to bring a unique piece missing from Broad Street, and in doing so has created intrigue that brings customers back again and again.
“Yes, we sell fly rods and backpacking gear, but the key to our success lies really in the crossover brands. We have a unique assortment with a widely varied price point, that literally appeals to every demographic. Most importantly we believe in quality of the goods we sell, we have built relationships with the brands, and that makes us confident to stand behind the products. I mean, these are products that I use,” Williams says.
Buying local rings especially true for this business power couple. Featuring many local artisans in their inventory, Fricks and Williams are committed to supporting small town commerce. Soaps by Terrapin Trading Company, Blake McAlister’s MAC custom knives, and bamboo fly rods by Jay Couch are local names we all recognize. However, the phrase support local business takes on a new meaning at the Canoe House, where the decision for brand support starts at the source.
Williams explains, “Last year we featured a denim jacket by Topo Designs. What interested me in this item is that it was hand stitched in Boulder, Colorado, made from denim produced at Mount Vernon Mills in Trion. These are American products supporting American workers and their families.
Even the socks we sell, Farm-to-Feet, is a brand that is committed to using USA materials, USA manufacturing, and USA workers. We have big brands and small vendors alike, but ultimately, we have a sense of community. It is a neat experience to walk around our town and hear someone say, ‘Hey, that’s the guy that made my knife.’”
Defying tradition, The Canoe House creates a masterpiece of cohesion through all the key products that cross over gender and age preconceptions. “I come here all the time. It’s really a one-stop-shop-for-the-whole-family experience; my husband and son are fishermen, my teenage girls love the clothes, and I am a huge SEC fan so this is where I get gifts for my friends,” chuckles customer Wendy Whitley. “What I love the most is the personal touch. It’s a family business, and they really know me.”
The store has seen a good deal of success since its opening in 2019. “It was a lot of fun watching the store come together. Finding a cohesion that combined our tastes and interests was at first a little daunting, but quickly it became organic and felt like a perfect mixture,” Fricks says. Then last spring shut their doors as they shuttered out the pandemic.
“We were closed for six weeks. I work in e-commerce full-time, so over the course of one weekend I built us a website and had our merchandise featured and available for purchase online. We had spring orders coming in and we knew we would have to keep our inventory moving.”
Immediately, Fricks and Williams took to social media to push their new website and wait for the community to show support. They didn’t wait long. “Orders started coming in. We offered private stock showings, shipments, and even door deliveries. Our boats and gear were flying out the door. People all of a sudden decided they needed to get outdoors, and we made it through,” Williams says with a look of gratitude.
Once businesses began to open back up, they intended to keep the e-commerce, but they missed doing business the old way. Fricks explains, “We want people to come in and experience the store. It’s amazing to see the reactions on their faces as they discover the unexpected. This is really such a neat space.”
“My biggest hope is that our country stays safe, and we stay open. I really do not want to shut down again,” Williams shares. “We will approach the holidays a little different than we did last year, with the Holiday Open House where we featured a live band on the patio and had food and drinks for everyone. Our priority is for everyone to stay healthy and feel comfortable.” For now, holiday events are on the back burner and the two turn focus toward holiday-themed gifts to appeal to everyone.
Since so many of the planned events for this year were canceled due to COVID-19, The Canoe House hopes to once again set community events in motion when warmer weather returns. “Fly tying nights, Open House Socials, and guided spring river trips are exciting to look forward to,” Williams says.
“We wouldn’t be here without the community, and it’s Rome that makes what we do so special.” It’s in this small town that Williams and Fricks grew up and now serve. They foster lifelong relationships with customers and their families, saying hello by name and putting a charming touch to their ma and pa operation. Seek the unexpected and dare to discover something truly unique at The Canoe House.
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