East Opens in Surf City, Bringing Quality and Appreciation for Handcrafted Products

Gorgeous Wooden Canoe Sold in Just a Week at New Boutique on the Boulevard
By JON COEN | Jul 23, 2015
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Maybe you’ve seen them sitting just off the Boulevard in Surf City: the gorgeous cedar canoe and kayak of bead and cove design with hand-caned ash seats and mahogany gunwales, shining like a piece of art in front of LBI’s newest retail location, simply called East. One island woodworker called it “the talk of the Island.”

Well, that “Mallard” model canoe, handmade by Woodstrip Watercraft Co., is already sold. In fact, after catching everyone’s eye on the north end of LBI, it took only seven days.

Jenifer Bryceland, owner of East, which opened its doors on Memorial Day weekend at 1600 Long Beach Blvd. (formerly Cottage Antiques) in Surf City, was confident the wooden canoe and kayak would garner attention. She hoped to sell them by the end of the season, but had no idea one of them would move in a week.

“I was so excited. It was bought by a family that has a house in Surf City and they’re actually going to be using it in the bay,” said Bryceland.

She admitted she’s not sure what to do when the new owner picks it up. She needs another canoe with the big 4th of July weekend upon us, but each boat takes about 80 hours to build. Still, it’s not a terrible problem to have her first month in business.

“So far she is a better salesperson than I am,” joked Al Bratton of Gilbertville, Pa., who made the canoe. “New retailer or not, selling one in a week is fast. Usually it’s at least several weeks.”

It’s also a problem for East, as nothing in the shop is made “production style.”

“Everything is made by an individual craftsman who has a passion for the craft. Whether it’s a backpack, a paddle, a candle, or a chair, it’s the same spirit that’s driving the people who make these things,” explained Bryceland. “Every day, I find the coolest things that are handmade by the makers … the shifters. There are so many people bringing back these crafts. Typically you have to be in business for four years before the bigger companies will even talk to you about carrying their product. But these businesses that are craftsmen, they get it. They support what I’m doing in reviving the experience.”

In fact, every single thing in the store, save for the pillows that are actually embroidered in New Jersey, is made in the United States. Retailers that can make that claim are rare. These products are generally more expensive, but for those who appreciate them, there is value in their esthetic, authenticity, durability and story.

Bryceland grew up in Manchester Township, always taking part in outdoor pursuits. Her father would take the family canoeing down the Delaware River. They would drive cross-country for six weeks each summer, camping along the way. They traveled to the Caribbean and found other manner of adventure. She has lived in Surf City for three years. The entire time, the idea for East was percolating in her mind.

“The inspiration came from a book called The Outsiders: The New Outdoor Creativity by J. Bowman. It’s all about individuals and their journeys, photojournalism married with people’s stories. I felt like people are getting back to the land and the sea in different ways. They’re getting back to the experiences they had as kids or those of past generations. There’s a shift in culture.”

Bryceland worked for a company called Black Rock in the financial world for 17 years. She explained that because of the entrepreneurial spirit of the firm, it supported her decision to take a sabbatical and pursue her goals with East.

The store is a true boutique. Each item has been carefully selected, and the store simply isn’t crowded with items.

“I’m a minimalist by nature. I think there’s a tendency to pack the store, but I had to be selective. People respond to it and understand the individuality of each item I carry. They say they like the layout because each piece feels special. I’m sure it will evolve, but I don’t want it to get to the point where people can’t appreciate what’s here,” Bryceland added.

Among the original merchandise in East are items made here on the Island, most notably the husband and wife team known as Bunkerfish. Beach Haven’s Jared Temple and Jesse Wolfe Temple are perfect examples of local artisans who are having an impact locally. Here, you will find Jared’s amazing custom coffee table and Jesse’s watercolor prints with reclaimed wooden frames, all with a salty LBI charm. Jesse has also painted canoe paddles, made by West Creek’s Randy Budd, aka Pine Knot Surfboards, which Bryceland calls a true LBI collaboration. Pine Knot also has alaias (re-creations of traditional Polynesian surfboards) and wooden handplanes for bodysurfing, both which have proven popular in East thus far. Papa Planes, the woodworking project of Beach Haven’s Greg Malega, has his fine mahogany and walnut jewelry boxes, serving trays and butcher blocks, as well as impressive cedar bowls here. Bryceland has also worked with Dawn Simon of Swing Graphics for a new take on the classic LBI T-shirt.

They may not all be from LBI, but Bryceland has found more products made with passion. The Long Beach Island pennants, made by Oxford Pennants out of Buffalo, N.Y., re-create an old tradition. The Hill Country scented candles are hand-poured in Texas. A major conversation piece in East has been the ultra-comfortable, ergonomically designed, lightweight wooden chairs made by a company called Pioneer in New Hampshire. They’re hardware free, held together with rot-resistant marine rope.

East’s bags by Archival, out of Portland, Ore., have been moving as well – rucksacks roll tops, and totes that she claims will last a lifetime.

And then there are those boats out front. Woodstrip Watercraft are all built by Bratton, who has been making what Bryceland calls “functional art,” one strip of cedar at a time since 1987. The “Mallard” is a signature model at $3,400, but the basic models go for $3,200. The kayak is a demo model for $2,500. Those run up to $3,800 brand new.

“I think LBI is a good fit for our products, although I would think the sea kayaks and decked canoes would sell better,” added Bratton. “As long as Jen keeps getting quality stuff, I think she will do well on LBI, as there seems to be a market for quality.”

Bratton and his canoes are a perfect example of sustaining a small business as a craftsman.

“There has always been a certain market for handcrafted, quality items, but the main thrust of consumer spending is to buy fast and cheap, mostly on impulse,” Bratton continued. “That is not the market I cater to, neither will it ultimately be Jen’s market. There are enough people out there that want good stuff for her to do well.”

“Because of that canoe and kayak, I met Bill Halperin, who builds wooden boats in Barnegat Light,” Bryceland said. “We got to talking, and he noted that so many people are into this kind of thing now. He’s the one who told me, ‘That boat is the talk of the Island.’ And that just makes my heart smile,” she said, beaming.

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

 

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