Shopping Mill Valley | Guideboat Co.

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A few months back while visiting San Francisco I met up with Tellason founders Tony Patella and Pete Searson. I’ve known those guys since 2009 when I first interviewed them for ACL and over the course of a few years we’ve become friends. As Tony and Pete are good guys who know a lot about what’s going on, I do my best to connect with them whenever I visit the Bay Area. When we met up for breakfast we spoke about Oakland amongst other things, and I told Pete and Tony how I have been hearing a lot about the city and how I was keen to check it out. They suggested a few places that they thought were interesting and I made a plan to spend the day out in the East Bay. We finished up our coffee and right before I was about to depart Pete mentioned a new shop out in his hometown of Mill Valley. “Oh yeah, you’re going to love this place.” Pete said. After checking things out in Oakland for most of the day I headed for my last stop of the day in Marin. And that’s the story of how I discovered something new in Mill Valley and how I came to love the Guideboat Company.

Inspired by a childhood in the Adirondacks, Stephen Gordon founded Guideboat Co. to be an amazing collection of well-made and long lasting things loosely organized around collection of boats and a nautical theme. The beautiful new store occupies a historic old saw mill which helped give this affluent North Bay town it’s name. It’s the perfect use for the long mothballed site that many in Mill Valley had worried would not be preserved. While it could certainly be considered off the beaten path for a flagship store, Guideboat is an enthralling retail showcase for this ambitious new endeavor. Though this isn’t the first retail launch for Gordon. Way back in 1979 he founded another little company you may know called Restoration Hardware. Guideboat’s other founder Chad Hurley is also no stranger to success himself, having co-founded YouTube. After spending a few hours in the shop in Mill Valley, I’d say these serial entrepreneurs are on to something.

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Taking inspiration from the boats, camps and sights of the Adirondacks, Guideboat draws its inspiration from that days Gordon’s youth.

“Growing up in the Adirondacks, many of Stephen Gordon’s fondest memories are of early morning rows on Lake Champlain and of 19th century Guideboats on the waters of the Upper St Regis and Loon Lakes. Acquiring a rare 1892 J.H. Rushton Guideboat a few years back he became intrigued with the idea of helping others create similar memories, young and old alike plying the waters. Gordon decided to build a new Guideboat, an identical Rushton hull design, an affordable rendition, American cherry trimmed, bronze fittings, hand made.”

The Mill Valley shop is a great expression for what Guideboat is all about. It’s the first of what I understand will be several retail stores, with an important catalog and online counterpart. When you walk into the old mill you can’t help but to be drawn to the incredible the boats. They are stunning pieces which should prove irresistible to anyone with a beating heart and access to any available patch of open water.The shop also offers a healthy component of menswear with an eye towards the classic and utilitarian qualities which so often show up on ACL. Stalwart brands like Steele Canvas, Red Wing Heritage, Pointer Brand, Billykirk, Sperry and of course Tellason. There’s also Guideboat’s own clothing, as well as knives, blankets, home goods and all sorts of other interesting and well-made things. You’ll find the best shoe polish, my favorite chapstick and all sorts of other tchotchkes that we can’t live without. The place is basically everything a guy like me is interested in, which explains why I was at Guideboat for nearly three hours that day. There’s really just too much concentrated goodness in one place for one to digest in a hurry. It’s definitely worth the drive from the city. Shit, it’s worth the trip from New York.

Here I was spending the day expecting to be dazzled by cool guy Oakland (here’s my verdict on Oakland: off to a start, but not ready for prime time) and then I end up finding Guideboat and being so very much being positively overwhelmed in Mill Valley, of all places.

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In a back building there’s also a collection of vintage Adirondack boats that are part of Stephen Gordon’s private collection that are on display for all to see. It’s in this “Adirondack Room” where you can learn more about how these boats were built and used throughout the lakes of the region. It’s an impressive collection that’s sure to leave an impression. It also helps you appreciate Gordon’s passion for these boats and you better understand just what has inspired the Guideboat Company.

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Comments on “Shopping Mill Valley | Guideboat Co.

    David Spaldingon January 29, 2015 @ 9:33 AM:

    Mill Valley was home to Mel and Pat Zeigler’s first Banana Republic shop. ;-)

    jordanon January 29, 2015 @ 1:55 PM:

    Oakland isn’t ready for prime time- if by prime time you mean being overrun by hipsters or boutiques for the super-rich..
    Oakland doesn’t give a shit about prime time which is precisely what people love about it. I’d name drop all its cool places here but then prices would go up.
    – Mill Valley is great- I graduated from Tam in ’86
    and the store looks gorgeous-
    Mill Valley its also a place no one can afford to live in or shop in without a few million bucks.
    But thanks for the pictures.

    Ming Ooion January 29, 2015 @ 2:59 PM:

    My favorite bag maker, Hlaska was a fellow San Fran brand that was bought by Guideboat, and not a single trace of their well made and cool bags or Hlaska DNA has made it into Guideboat.

    I still get asked all the time where I bought my rucksack from. It is too bad that Hlaska doesn’t exist anymore.

    Sarahon January 29, 2015 @ 4:27 PM:

    “Mill Valley of all places”?? Marin is super wealthy and Mill Valley is one of the most if not the most wealthy community in the county. This store looks completely at home there, from the location to the aesthetic. I used to live there, and I will always love the location and the town itself, but it has changed into an extremely upscale community where only the very wealthy can live. I agree with Jordan, I love Mill Valley and these pictures are great, but it’s just another reminder of all the lovely things that are way out of my reach.

    Michael Williamson January 29, 2015 @ 5:34 PM:

    Sarah, you seemed to argue with and prove my point all in the same comment.

    Stephen Gordonon January 29, 2015 @ 7:22 PM:

    Michael….thank you for your kind words. I am so pleased you like what we’re trying to accomplish.

    JDon January 30, 2015 @ 2:21 PM:

    Gorgeous boats and a great building, but I really don’t get it. It’s more of the same urban sportsman stuff (which I love in general) with a smattering of things I would rather pick up at my hardware store. It’s so “curated” that it’s stifling. No aesthetic risks whatsoever. Most importantly, nothing is making me say, “I have to get this now and only from Guideboat.”

    Skenflin McGintyon January 30, 2015 @ 5:13 PM:

    Where’s all the vitriol? I thought for sure this post had the makings of the solid gold notebook.

    Garyon January 30, 2015 @ 5:26 PM:

    Looks like someone walked out of Best Made and said “let’s do that with oars instead of axes”

    Bebeon January 31, 2015 @ 1:15 AM:

    Great read: Mill Valley’s one of the few spots where Mr. Gordon’s transplanted Adirondack ambiance doesn’t appear odd. Next time I’m up there, I’ll check Guideboat Co.out.

    Still, those Sabots: $3,000 a rowboat, and $5,000 a sailer. And no carbon-fiber either. I can get a race-ready used boat with a high sail number for half that price. Don’t need to race? When I was 8, my dad and I built my first out of plywood sheets and spruce boards for maybe $100.00. Today $500 will do that job. And what an awesome parent/child project ‘cuz Sabots are all-family racing and fun one-design dinghies: Hey, Mom/Dad, let’s build an 8-foot boat! Clearly Guideboat does the New York canoe thing with panache. Unless the sales go only to juniors at Richmond YC (or somebody who can’t tell a transom from a bow), that Sabot course needs correction. I gotta tell an old friend who builds those boats: OTOH, if he’s the provider, I’ll be having a good laugh.

    Brook Shepardon January 31, 2015 @ 9:28 PM:

    JD – “…so “curated” that it’s stifling…” may be my new favorite descriptor of stores from Brooklyn (where I live and have put down roots) to Hudson, NY (where we spend some time.)

    I like both of those places, or I wouldn’t live there, and I’m certainly part of the gentrifying problem, but yeah – “…so “curated” that it’s stifling.” is my new favorite phrase.

    Jonathanon February 2, 2015 @ 1:20 AM:

    Primetime shows:

    Big Bang Theory
    2 Broke Girls
    Selfie
    CSI

    Non-Primetime shows:

    Homeland
    The Americans
    The Walking Dead
    True Detective

    …thus, much as I – living, as I do, in Oakland – was ready to take your sly little dig as the insult it was intended to be, upon reflection, we accept your compliment.

    Out of curiosity, where exactly did you visit in Oakland that was so disappointing in comparison to the sanitized paradise that is Mill Valley?

    NBon February 2, 2015 @ 4:22 PM:

    Guideboat is the best mens store in the entire bay area. The attention to curation and aesthetic is world class.

    Jackon February 2, 2015 @ 6:32 PM:

    Michael, I love the photos and description of Guideboat. I live nearby and my 19 year-old step-daughter Emma and I stopped by for their after Xmas sale. I can say from first-hand experience that their products are incredibly well made and sure as heck don’t deserve the “you gotta be rich” and “curated” comments.

    For what it’s worth, Emma bought a pair of gorgeous gloves there, that were on sale, for $30 using money she makes babysitting. Emma is not someone who wastes money. She saw a great deal and took it. And Emma is not exactly a novice in recognizing things being overly curated, etc., as her mom is an art director so grew up watching layouts created, etc.,and this is the first time I’ve seen her buy something that I would describe as a premium product.

    David Spaldingon February 2, 2015 @ 6:40 PM:

    Wow. The entire Bay Area, eh? ,:\

    stan scolnickon February 24, 2015 @ 1:45 AM:

    I have not visited the guideboat co facility yet, but I intend to soon. I do own a fiberglass hull guideboat and just love it. What would compliment this facility would be the establishment of a museum of sorts to exhibit some vintage wood canvas canoes to compliment the guideboat and symbolize that era and part of the country that most people know little about. I love canoes and being from new england, grew up around them. I own several originals and am always found tinkering with them. I am fairly knowledgeable about w/c’s and can identify most

    Turner Washingtonon February 24, 2015 @ 11:54 PM:

    Mill Valley is a beautiful, woodsy-smelling place, that once upon a time was filled with rascals, riff-raff, craftsmen and the like. And now is filled with the kind of rascals who sue their neighbor over a tree rather than talk with them over a beer. Places like Guideboat are a spit-shined and packaged version of old Mill Valley for people who read websites like this; and I don’t really have a problem with that, since, of course, I read websites like this. It’s a cool place, but it’s nostalgia on a plate. Oakland is currently where the rascals and artists reside in the Bay Area, and like lots of places before it (Brooklyn, Laurel Canyon, etc) it doesn’t look like much to the outsider, and it’s not for tourists to penetrate, but the true times are there and won’t be for long. As Jonathan pointed out above—prime time and quality time are two very different species.

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