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Nautical Wheelers Moves To New Home
With Rooms to Grow
August 24, 2011
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Bowls, window ornaments and glass sailing ship.

Next to the shoe room is the men’s wear room. “One of our biggest sellers has been the Blood and Guts line,” Bill says. These are short pants that, after they’ve been soiled with bait and slime on a fishing boat, are easily hosed clean. Then there’s evening wear, suited for Pamlico County al fresco events; Columbia’s “Insect Blocker” line of shorts come pre-charged with mosquito repellent.

Russ Carlow, visiting Oriental from Downington, Pennsylvania, ponders a hat.

For sun-intensive activities, Nautical Wheelers has plenty of wide brimmed hats, including Tilleys, with their positive-flotation peaks — they float if blown overboard, giving a boater a chance to retrieve it — as well as a lifetime guarantee against wearing out. Also available are Ultimate Hats among an array of others.

The women’s wear room. The racks carry brands like Columbia and Merrell, while the walls feature artwork from near and far.

In a big room up the stairs is women’s clothing: blouses, shirts and skirts geared to outdoor and water use as well as wearing well inland. Other departments upstairs include a room full of t-shirts, a room of outer wear, and a bargain clearance room.

T-shirts, found in another of the second-floor rooms.

Not all customers are looking for clothing or footwear though. Some just want a reminder of their Oriental stay. Or a gift to send to someone. For them, the Wheelers put a lot of effort and thought in to something that has the Oriental theme. Camilla Wheeler says she tries to find US-made gifts and in particular, those made in NC.

Candles from Tyler, Texas.

As she was setting up the store, Camilla found someone who made pillows out of upholstery cloth left over from the High Point area furniture industry. She liked the richly textured high quality fabrics, but not the shape of the pillows. The square, conventional form wasn’t unique to Oriental. So Camilla asked the pillowmaker if she could make them in the shape of sailboats.

A Nautical Wheelers sailboat pillow. Each pillow is made from upholstery fabric remnants from the NC furniture industry. No two are quite alike.

The resulting pillows proved very popular with customers. (And that tall sail shape fits perfectly in corners of couches and boat settees.) The pillows now come in fish shapes, too.

Other gift items with local ties include t-shirts with Betty Brown designs and artwork by area artists JZ and Dana Tuttle.

In a sunny side room, kids toys and togs.

Nautical Wheelers also stocks wine and throughout the year, the store hosts wine tastings to introduce customers to premium wines. Following the event, customers can take home a bottle or two of what they enjoyed. Or they can drop by any day to choose from a selection of wines in the $15 to $25 range.

One of the first displays that greets customers, complete with a selection of Oriental-themed wine glasses. Camilla says originally the crabs painted on the wine glasses were red. That wouldn’t do. She says, “Down here, our crabs are blue.” The painter took note. Now the crabs more closely resemble those found in the Neuse River.

When Camilla and Bill Wheeler first visited Oriental in 1994, they were not looking to open a store, or buy a building. They had come to buy a sailboat. Still, Camilla says, they fell in love with the town, and kept it in mind, even as they went off cruising. With their young daughters, Emma and Kara, they sailed their Island Packet 32, “Last Mango” between Bar Harbor, Maine and Georgetown in the Bahamas from 1996 to 1998.

The Broad Street entrance – and a taste of what’s inside the new store.

The Wheelers returned to life on land shortly before their son Will was born. For the following decade, they lived in Winston-Salem, and worked to find a way to return to Oriental full-time. That’s what they’ve done these past few years.

Exchange Policy: Outside on the porch is a bookcase with books to swap. “You give, you take,” the sign says, “Everybody reads.” There’s a chair nearby to sit down in and start doing that.

Though new to retail, the Wheelers are using their experiences — as cruisers and visitors to town and now as residents — to suss out what other boaters, visitors, residents want in a store. And in their new digs, they can really lay it all out.

Nautical Wheelers is open Monday through Saturday 10a to 6p and Sundays 12p to 6p.

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