Brownsville kayak store to offer rentals, equipment for peninsula paddlers

The firehouse sat vacant for more than two years before the Port of Brownsville Commissioners voted to approve a kayak store for the second story May 25. - Christopher Carter/staff photo
The firehouse sat vacant for more than two years before the Port of Brownsville Commissioners voted to approve a kayak store for the second story May 25.
— image credit: Christopher Carter/staff photo

Paddling down from the peninsula last month, David Fisher, director of the Olympic Kayak Club, moored in Brownsville and was struck by an idea.

The old vacant firehouse near the marina would make for a great kayak shop, he thought.

Little did he know he shared that idea with a Pierce County businessman and port officials.

“It makes sense because there isn’t anything right in that area,” he said.

Robert Ellsworth and his wife Jackie Susan think it makes sense as well. The couple owns Ship to Shore in Gig Harbor and are taking over the second story of the firehouse and are making final preparations for the move.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic they are coming over,” said Port Manager Jerry Rowland. “I think it will be a really good fit for this community and the marina.”

A good fit, he says, because the store will offer something the port has been missing for more than a decade — kayak rentals.

“It kind of fills the void,” said Commissioner Jack Bailey. “People have asked for years, ‘Can we get a rental place here?’”

Now they have it and in time for summer.

Ellsworth said he hasn’t set prices yet, but rates will be based on the type of kayak and how long it’s out on the water. Daily rates will be available as well.

The port is a natural stop along popular water trails and is used as both a destination and resting point for kayak tours and races in the region.

Fisher said he and other club members have visited the port during trips up and down the peninsula. He said the port’s facilities — namely a store near the marina — makes the port an ideal stop.

“Last time I was there, we landed and immediately I went inside to get my breakfast burrito,” he said.

Ellsworth added that abundant parking for those driving, not paddling, to the store was a plus, as well.

Last month, kayakers in the Puget Sound Challenge stopped at the port en route to Fort Ward from Poulsbo.

The challenge is a segmented tour of the Puget Sound taking place through the spring and summer months.

Fisher said he has seen interest in the sport grow, and now with the new store, Central Kitsap members of the club won’t have to drive as far away as Port Gamble for supplies or gear.

Ellsworth said he doesn’t have a day set to open the store officially, but said as inventory is moved, he’ll open the doors to customers. The last permit is under review by the county.

Despite the eagerness to turn on the ‘open’ sign, Ellsworth said the kayak industry is in bad shape and the new store is a gamble.

“Anytime you start a business, it’s a crapshoot,” he said.

Before the economy tanked, Ellsworth said he was selling nearly 500 kayaks a year. He estimates he sold less than 150 last year.

“Last year I didn’t even count them it was so grim,” he said.

He said the kayaks he sells cost anywhere from under $300 to $3,000.

John Kuntz, president of the Olympic Outdoor Center, said the heyday of kayak sales was nearly 10 years ago. However, with a decline in sales comes a rise in rentals.

“The bottom line is people still want to have fun. If they can’t purchase it, they’re going to rent it,” he said.

His Port Gamble-based center has kayak rentals available in Poulsbo and Seabeck.

Rowland said he is optimistic the store will stay afloat and possibly bring in more money and business for the port.

“I really think this will be a successful endeavor,” he said. “This will be a good marriage.”

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