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A ride on the Pieces of Eight boat, which includes its own gift store, is part of the fun at Salty Sam’s Waterfront Adventure. This interactive experience offers a history lesson too.

he swashbuckling life of pirates continues to fascinate us. Real pirates like Blackbeard and fictional characters like Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, provide adults and children with tales of adventure. With pirates now part of our culture, merchandise relating to the pirate themes has become a staple in retail stores throughout North America.

As buyer for Salty Sam’s Waterfront Adventure in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., Beth Garcia oversees the purchasing for two restaurants, a marina and gift shop and Pieces of Eight, a pirate boat cruise with another gift shop on board. Pieces of Eight is a 90-minute interactive cruise where passengers participate in pirate adventures including sword fighting and pirate skits. The ship’s 900-square-foot gift shop features a variety of pirate merchandise.

“We do three cruises per day and each cruise holds between 90 and 120 people,” said Garcia. “Our guests love the pirate theme and they want to be able to take part of their adventure home with them.”

In addition to the on-board gift shop, the marina also has a small shop, which also offers pirate merchandise as well as sundries guests might need such as sunscreen and sun glasses. The most popular pirate items in both stores include pirate swords, eye patches, T-shirts, water pistols and educational books on real pirate history.

“What makes the cruise fun is that it is interactive, and while geared toward children, adults have fun too. Guests can get face paint ‘tattoos’ or watch the pirate skits, or swab the decks, but we also teach the guests about the real pirate history. We are in Florida and pirate history is an important part of the Florida coast – in fact the entire eastern seaboard. We like our guests to know that history too.”

As General Manager of Dillon Importing Inc., Jeff Goodner cannot deny the continuing popularity of pirate merchandise. The Oklahoma City-based importer of toys and novelties, which was founded in 1937, has always sold pirate merchandise, but Dillon Importing has upped the pirate offerings dramatically in the last decade.

Small pirate souvenirs are a perfect fit for the many children who visit Salty Sam’s Waterfront Adventure. Best-selling merchandise includes swords, eye patches, T-shirts, water pistols and educational pirate history books.
“Obviously, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies impacted the popularity of pirate merchandise,” Goodner explained. “We always had a demand for pirate products from stores in beach communities, especially the Atlantic Coast where pirate history lives, but the movies were a big catalyst in making pirate merchandise popular everywhere. I ship pirate products to a lot of stores where an ocean is nowhere in sight.”

Dillon’s most popular pirate item is a flintlock water pistol that retailers order repeatedly. The demand for pirate merchandise continues to grow and accounts for a large percentage of Dillon's revenues.

“Pirates are not trendy; they are a staple in the retail world now. I only see the demand for merchandise growing as adults and children discover their love of swashbuckling characters.”

Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise of Panama City Beach, Fla., ushers visitors back in time when swashbuckling pirates ruled the eastern seaboard. Owners Cheryl and Philip Adams run four cruises per day with each cruise hosting approximately 140 guests.

Guest Cam Agius poses for a photograph with pirates at Salty Sam's Waterfront Adventure. In addition to shopping the gift stores, guests can sail on a cruise, get face paint tattoos, watch pirate skits and swab the decks.

“We have an actual pirate-looking, 65-foot ship, and our cruise is both fun and educational and it allows our guests to imagine what it would be like to be a pirate.”

Although The Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise targets 3-to-10-year-old children, adults enjoy the activities as well. The cruise is filled with interactive activities including sword fighting and a treasure hunt.

“We keep our guests entertained for the duration of the cruise, and we also have a shop on board and one on the dock stocked with pirate merchandise so they can take home a part of their adventure.”

Among the most popular items in the gift shops are swords, bandanas, telescopes, flintlock water pistols, T-shirts for adults and children and a Jack Sparrow hat.

“There is no doubt that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have helped the pirate-themed merchandise. There has always been a great base for this merchandise in Florida, but the movies have made pirate items very mainstream.”

As owners of Flappin’ Flags in Eugene, Ore., Ardie and John Flynn know firsthand how popular pirate merchandise has become. The company manufactures, imports and distributes pirate-themed souvenirs and novelties, which is a sub-theme of their nautical merchandise lines.

Toy pirate swords and guns are sure to draw attention at Salty Sam's Waterfront Adventure.

“More than half of our Pirate orders come from coastal stores and maritime museums, but the pirate allure is growing,” Ardie Flynn said. “Pirate merchandise always had a place in the souvenir and novelty world, but movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean has made the demand jump. Now, it’s not a trend. Pirates have become a culture all their own. We saw the demand coming, and we were fortunate to be ahead of the curve.”

While Flappin’ Flags sells a wide variety of pirate merchandise, from bandanas to water pistols, they are famous for their flags, which include a 3-foot-by-5-foot flag, a 12-inch-by-18-inch flag and a two-sided flag as well. The company, which now offers 1,000 skews of pirate-themed merchandise, has copyrighted many flag designs including its famous “Surrender the Booty” design and offers several pirate merchandise collections that appeal to children, adults and college students.

“Our flags are our number-one merchandise item and our pirate party pack that includes stainless steel drinking flasks, shot glasses and bottle cozies is our second most popular item. It’s amazing that pirates are now a part of our culture. It used to be just on the coastlines and in beach or seaside shops, but no more. Pirates are a part of all of us, and it is a theme that is here to stay.”

Keith Elliot is national sales manager for Miami, Fla.-based American Gift Corporation, a global company that is a direct importer for souvenirs, gifts and novelties. Since its beginnings in 1925, American Gift Corporation has always offered pirate merchandise to retailers and customers.

“Pirate merchandise has always been important for us, even before the Jack Sparrow movies,” Elliot noted. “We have over 500 skews of pirate merchandise, and the items have always been supported by a strong customer loyalty, especially on the East Coast where pirate history is so alive. When we do trade shows, I dress up as a pirate and I am known as Captain Keith. We take the pirate culture very seriously.”

Among the most popular pirate items for American Gift Corporation are pirate ships, which range from 4 to 40 inches.

“The smallest ships are toys for children and the largest ones are collector items for adults,” he explained. “Pirates appeal to all ages. They are not a fad concept. They are a legitimate part of our national landscape.”

Pirate flags are also in demand for American Gift Corporation. Their most popular flag displays “Name Your Poison,” one of the most famous pirate sayings. Other in-demand items are coffee mugs, shot glasses and steins. Along with retailers, American Gift Corporation provides merchandise to theme parks and amusement parks as well.

“The different items that are most popular change from year to year but none ever lose their demand. We change sayings, images, etc., and make things fresh and new, and our customers and their customers love them.”

As owner of the Pirate’s Chest in Ocracoke, N.C., Amy Srail understands how important pirate culture is to her customers. Srail has owned the store for five years but worked for the previous owner as a manager for 15 years.

“We are in a place where pirate history is important,” she noted. “Tourists and residents love to have pirate merchandise and they love to keep pirate history alive.”

The most popular pirate items offered at Pirate’s Chest are tumblers with straws that cannot fall out, pirate T-shirts, wooden ships, toys, such as flintlock water pistols and swords, and other souvenir items such as pirate ash trays and name-dropped merchandise with pirate themes.

“Pirate books, with both fictional and historical subjects, are always in demand,” Srail pointed out. “But it’s the fictional books with the legends and tall tales that grab most customers’ attention. Being a pirate is exciting and we are in an area where pirates thrived, and my customers want to re-live that a bit and be a part of it. For this store, pirate merchandise is about life here in Ocracoke. The Jack Sparrow movies brought more attention to pirates, but here they have always been larger than life.”

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