The smell of salt water lingers subtly in the air as you turn the corner of Front Street in Greenport and head toward the wharf. It isn’t ocean heavy, but just the perfect amount to immerse strollers-by in the romance and adventure of the nautical culture that is all around.
On your right you’ll pass Claudio’s, once the oldest restaurant continuously owned by a single family not only on Long Island but in the country, founded by a sailor who stepped of a ship and decided to call Greenport home. Up ahead, an array of boats rest and bob on the water as if waiting to start some sort of parade, Shelter Island as a backdrop, the open ocean tantalizingly close to the east. And across the street, Preston’s Chandlery beckons.
Preston’s dates back to the 1880s, a time when a ship chandlery business was central to the existence of ports and waterfront areas. As the story goes, when Captain Samuel Preston sailed into Greenport, he fell in love with the busy seaport so much so that he purchased waterfront property in the village and established his namesake, S.T. Preston & Son Ship’s Chandlery. His store supplied everything required to maintain the ships that sailed into Greenport, which included yachts owned by the Vanderbilts and boats that raced in the America’s Cup.
In 1957 Frank Fagan, a successful advertising executive, also fell in love with Greenport and made a deal to buy Preston’s from Ben Rogers, Samuel’s son-in-law. Fagan then asked his own son-in-law, George Rowsom, to come on board to run Preston’s. The two not only were successful in growing the original chandlery business, they also founded a mail order business that grew to become the leader in its field, selling nautical giftware and home décor around the globe.
Today, George’s sons Peter and Andrew run the day-to-day operations, but Peter is quick to mention that their mother, Andrea, is the CEO of the family business. There are now two stores located on the wharf, one providing boaters with equipment, sportswear and nautical gear, while the other sells products from their catalog and website, including nautical and coastal gifts.
“We service the big yachts that come into Greenport and other nearby marinas for their morning supplies,” Peter says, “plus we service the smaller guys as well.”
Not to mention anyone who is searching for that perfect nautical piece to bring Long Island’s seafaring history into their own living space—on land or on the water. Among their favorite home décor products, Peter notes, are wood charts. “These are extremely popular,” he says. “People put them in their homes and on their boats.”
A wood chart begins with a bathymetric chart (which is the underwater equivalent of a topographic map) that is laser cut to the contours of the depths, then each layer is glued together to create visual depth. It is then hand-stained, with major byways etched into the wood.
Fans of local nautical décor cannot live on Long Island Sound wood charts alone, of course. Rowsom shares a trio of other sea-inspired pieces that have become Preston’s favorites:
Fluke fishing is a classic Long Island pastime, so it’s only natural that one of Preston’s customer favorites is the Fluke Doormat.
No need to go all the way to the Caribbean to get your pirate on. This 18th century French Flintlock was favored by those villains of the sea and has a skull and crossbones on the wood handle.
The sand dollar is a symbol of both peace and goodwill as well as very lucky find for Long Island beachcombers. This version, designed by Michael Healy, is heavy solid brass and sets a coastal tone as guests enter your home.
Preston’s is located at 102 Main Street in Greenport. See more at prestons.com.