WELLFLEET – Today’s Cape Cod business lesson is that a giant shark helps sell souvenirs. Not that kind of shark.
“People have stopped by and asked to borrow it for a movie,” said Dylan Caplowitz (“My title? I fold t-shirts.”) of the 15-foot fiberglass shark strung up outside Riley’s $2 T-shirt Outlet on Route 6 in South Wellfleet.
The shark is not going anywhere.
Steve Riley, the owner of Riley’s, explained further about the shark. It turns out that his father, who started Riley’s, sourced the shark as a highway attention-getter before sharks started turning up in great numbers off the Cape’s beaches in the summer.
“He used to drive down to Florida and he’d see a big shark in front of the tourist shops. He wanted one for here. He spent five years trying to find someone to make it. There’s all sorts of cheesy ones out there, but he didn’t want one like that,” Riley said.
So instead, he had it made “in Nebraska or somewhere stupid like that, no where near the water,” said Riley. “The guy drove it here himself and put it up himself.”
Coincidently the Riley’s shark was installed around the same time the great white sharks began visiting Chatham a few years ago, said Mike Riley, manager of Riley’s.
The Riley’s shark in Wellfleet is a sort of billboard for a tourist shop full of seashells, shot glasses, and, yes, $2 T-shirts, among many other items. Steve says, of Riley’s, “We sell everything that you forgot – beach chairs, umbrellas, suntan lotion. Some people forget their bathing suits. This week, we’re selling sweatshirts.”
Of course, what they are really selling is Cape Cod. In one room, it appears they are doing it seashell by seashell. There are also knick-knacks, souvenirs, signs, and various lobster paraphernalia.
Everything is for sale except for one thing. “The shark is not for sale,” said Marilyn Riley, Steve’s mother, who is still involved in running all the Riley’s businesses.
There is also a Riley’s in Provincetown, three in Lake George, New York, and one in Lake Placid, said Mike.
There are differences between the Wellfleet stores and the Riley’s stores in upstate New York, said Mike. “In Lake George, our store is much bigger,” he said. “Both stores kind of carry the same stuff, but there are two $2 T-shirt bins in Lake George that are 30-feet long. Here, there is only a small bin. “People really love the $2 t-shirts up there,” said Mike.
Caplowitz added, “Cape Cod is more of a tourist area,” and people like things that say “Cape Cod” on them. The $2 T-shirts typically are not specific to Cape Cod, he said. Thus, in Wellfleet, the Cape Cod shirts, slightly more expensive, are more popular.
“We have quality clothing at the right price,” Marilyn said. Two feet in front of her was a small table of T-shirts, emblazoned with the word “Rlley’s.” The price was 99 cents.