My Dad used to say, ‘If you’re going to live by the water, you’re going to get wet,’” Andrew Rowsom said with a chuckle as he perused old photographs of S. T. Preston & Son in Greenport after a storm left the store under three feet of water. A family run business since 1957, and around since the 1880s, Rowsom said, “My grandfather, Frank Fagan, bought the business from Captain Preston’s son-in-law. My grandfather was an avid boater and he needed a retirement project. He also knew that if he bought the store, it would always be stocked with everything he needed for his boat.”
“When my grandfather did finally retire, it was around the same time my dad was getting out of the army. Together they started a mail-order business producing a digest size black and white catalog. It was the mid-1960s and back then, they were pretty much pioneers in the direct mail industry and direct mail marketing,” Rowsom said.
“My grandfather was in the advertising business and knew how to promote the catalog and gain customers. They did a lot of advertising in [publications such as] The New York Times, The Smithsonian, National Geographic, and even Playboy. They would usually put an item for sale in the ad so they could cultivate business and develop a customer base. It grew to the point that we were mailing out three million catalogs a year. Once the internet came, that sort of changed the whole dynamics of it and now we do everything online,” he added.
Rowsom, who owns Preston’s with his brother, Peter, and mother, Andrea, began working in the store when he was 18 years old. With a marketing degree from the New York Institute of Technology, Rowsom has worked with the family business ever since, helping to further their client base and provide boaters and seasonal shoppers with the quality items and service the store has become famous for.
All In The Family
An example of their customer service is one of Rowsom’s favorite memories told to him by his grandfather. “Our lawyer, Bill Price, who was our local judge up until last year, also worked at the store as a teenager. He was working one Sunday with my grandfather and a guy comes in looking for a pair of Sperry Topsiders shoes. Bill said to him, ‘Well I can’t let you try them on if you’re not wearing socks,’ and the guy said, ‘Well then I can’t buy them.’ So, Bill took his shoes off and took his socks off and the guy put Bill’s socks on, tried the shoes, and bought them. My grandfather was always enamored with Bill because of that,” Rowsom related.
With the passing of Rowsom’s grandfather, his father took the helm and with the help of the family, the business continued to thrive. Even when his father officially retired, “He still came to work every day,” Rowsom stated. “We were all involved in the business in one way or another. I remember that my grandmother used to run an art show every year in July and all the local artists would come and display their work on the dock outside. She did it for many years but eventually she gave it up as she got older. It was a lot of work to coordinate everything.”
Rowsom met his wife, Heather, when she worked in a salon down the street from Preston’s. Married for 15 years now, she has her own salon down the street aptly named Heather’s Salon. Although Heather worked down the street, it took 10 years before the couple actually met.
The business, however, takes a great deal of time away from the things that both Rowsom brothers enjoy. “Peter loves fishing and we both love sailing. We do have a sailboat that we actively race. It’s named Mutiny. We race every Saturday for the 10 weeks in the summer and we’ve won our fair share of races. We have a very competitive fleet now. We have about 15 local boats and we race in Orient Harbor. Sometimes we’ll host an event and people will come from different countries as well as all over the East Coast,” he said.
“The problem is though,” admitted Rowsom, “If you do that, the racing, then there’s not much time to do other things. We have to wait till the fall to do fishing when things die down a bit.”
According to Rowsom, Preston’s owners and their staff do a “celebrity count” every year. “Greenport is a good spot for celebrities because they can kind of fly below the radar. It’s a little low key. Nobody’s looking for them here. Billy Joel comes in every year. Last year, he came in with Governor Cuomo. Martha Stewart’s been here several times. It’s always been like that. When they filmed the movie Devil’s Own here in Greenport 20 years ago, Harrison Ford came in every day to buy stuff like hats and clothing.”
With a laugh, Rowsom recalled when Christie Brinkley came into the store. “That’s when I knew I was getting old,” he said as he relayed the story. “Christie Brinkley came into the store and she had just bought a new boat. This was maybe 10 years ago and a friend of mine, Freddie, and his family were living on a boat at the dock. So, I went out and helped her and put some stuff on her boat and installed some things and got her all setup with her new boat. She was thrilled and she left.”
He continued, “I walked over to the dock to say hi to my friend Freddie who was 20 at the time and I said, ‘Know who I just helped out on the dock?’ Of course he says, ‘No, who?’ So I told him it was Christie Brinkley. Then Freddie looked at me and said, ‘Who’s Christie Brinkley?’ It was at that point that I knew I was way too old!”
Bob Seid, a retired high school Massapequa teacher, has worked with the Rowsoms for five years. “The family bought the store in 1957 and they have always hired local kids to work here,” he said. “I have had people come in who are in their 40s and 50s who worked here when they were teenagers. The family has always helped the community. I tell the young people when they work here that these guys are going to spoil them. They’re so good natured. But I tell them you have to do your job,” he continued.
“I also kid around and tell them that we teach them how to add and subtract. The cash register is from 1911 and there’s no button that says what the change is going to be. I often joke,” Seid said with a smile, “the guys should get a tax break because they teach the local kids how to add and subtract!”