Securing provisions is the last thing a crew wants to deal with when they sail the Salish Sea. In the past, sailors docking at the Bellingham Port often had to hire a taxi and spend several hours locating grocery stores and securing provisions for their family or crew.
That’s where the Salty Life Provisioning Company steps in to save the day. Launched by Jim and Claudette Johnson and their daughter Maggie last January, the provisioning company offers both a store front in Suite 8 in the Harbor Mall (Squalicum Harbor) and an online shop and delivery service.
Claudette Johnson came up with the concept for the company when she helped a sailor buy groceries for her family. Johnson realized the stress involved with hiring a taxi and finding the nearest grocery store and then hauling the provisions back to the port. Often, the sailors don’t know their way around Bellingham, let alone to the nearest grocery store. So what if the Johnson family solved the problem by launching a shop and delivery service?
According to Maggie Johnson, “We were just going to focus on the online part, but the harbor community wanted the store front.”
This store front now offers everything from munchies, maps and toys to other necessities. The family plans on expanding to include fun family events and offer more conveniences for tourists and sailors. According to the Johnsons, their future holds a place for ice cream socials, punch cards, interior seating with a small deli, a kids pirate/kite flying day, a small postal shop with mail boxes, a laminating service, a notary service, WDF&W Licensing, on water services and rentals.
The family owns a sail boat and has 15 years of provisioning experience—having enjoyed excursions to the San Juan Islands and other locations around the Salish Sea. They currently dock their boat at Squalicum Harbor, having moved it from the Blaine harbor.
When asked about the demographics at the harbor, Maggie mentioned that 90 to 100 sailors live-on their boats. Other sailors and families drift in from other places. All these folks benefit from the conveniences the Johnson family offers.
While the Harbor Mall provides drab uniform buildings, the Johnson family spruced their storefront with windsocks, a rack of toys and splashes of color. A world map hangs on a wall and shelves are stocked with comfort foods and toys for the kids, giving the shop a whimsical atmosphere.
In fact, one of the challenges the family faces is making room for their stock as their customer base expands. Provisioning is small for a big crowd. A challenge is making sure to have two of everything and room for it. The Johnsons are constantly moving the dividing wall to gain more space. Becoming a ship chandlery for the Port of Bellingham also offers a new challenge.
Maggie finds the location challenging but she enjoys the friendly community of like-minded people at the harbor.
The family focuses on positive ways to market their business to port dwellers, tourists and local entrepreneurs wishing to sell their goods through the provisioning company. “We are starting to get connected with other businesses [in Whatcom County] and we plan on supporting local businesses by having local products in our store,” says Maggie.
With the warmer weather and tourist season beginning, business has picked up for the Salty Life. And this new business sparks ideas too, such as offering kayak and bicycle rentals in the future or setting up a booth for the Fourth of July this summer. Maggie even mentioned cardboard cut-outs for people to photograph themselves. It will be interesting to see how this business expands after the port undergoes redevelopment in the next several years.
But for now, the Salty Life Provisioning Company with its trademark octopus logo offers a convenient service that takes the hassle out of visiting the Port of Bellingham or sailing to the San Juan Islands from the harbor. And the family clearly enjoys offering their services to the sailing community and meeting people both local and afar. They enjoy sharing their boating stories, being near the harbor with the fresh breeze, being asked to go racing on the bay and selling unique nautical items both new and old. So, come all ye sailors.