Since Western Springs is roughly 20 miles from Lake Michigan and has no navigable waterways within its village limits, one could assume that local sailboat and motorboat enthusiasts would have to go some distance to equip their watercraft. But, that wasn’t true in 1965.
Before the current Village Hall was built on the corner of Wolf and Hillgrove, two buildings occupied much of that site. One was a Phillips 66 gasoline station. The other was “The Ship’s Wheel”, a retail store and mail order house that carried all things nautical. Located directly west of what is now Wally’s Garage, the building was a weekend sailor’s shopping paradise. See photos.
Pat Baird, who owned and operated the store, was a real entrepreneur. The store was open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays ‘til 9 p.m., offered special Sunday and evening hours during the Christmas season, and stocked enough nautical equipment and novelty items to fill four showrooms.
The store even offered a money back guarantee on all merchandise, gift wrapping for just 50¢, and extended credit to its customers via American Express and Diner’s Club credit cards ... business practices that many stores had not yet adopted. But, a large portion of the business came from the store’s extensive 48-page mail order catalog. See photos.
While there are no accounts of exactly how much business the store handled, the wide range of merchandise suggests that it was a very successful venture. You could buy just about anything that went on, or was related to, a boat … galley equipment, pennants, foul weather gear, yacht caps, lamps, deck chairs, captain and crew towels, binnacles, range finders, nautical jewelry, navigation aids, ship’s lanterns, books, compasses, model ships, flare guns, and much, much more.
Unfortunately, by 1967, the Village of Western Springs had outgrown its office space in the historic Water Tower and in a small building located just north of the Ship’s Wheel. As a result, after a successful village-wide referendum, the town purchased the building, along with the adjacent gasoline station, as a site for the current village hall. Demolition followed shortly afterward and the new village hall opened the following year.
While The Ship’s Wheel reportedly moved to another town, little is known of its eventual fate. But, for a brief time, this wonderful store made Western Springs a magnet for area boating enthusiasts.
If you would like to see the store’s complete catalog, stop by the Historical Society’s Archives (2nd floor of the Grand Avenue Community Center) any Tuesday between 9 a.m. and Noon.
Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society presents a “Blast from the Past”. For more information, visit us at www.westernspringshistory.org.