The Working Waterfront

‘Go Fish’ continues to hook customers on Vinalhaven

Rachel Noyes has navigated waters to find niche as island, tourist store

Kris Osgood
Posted 2018-07-24
Last Modified 2018-07-24

In a time when more and more independently owned brick and mortar shops are closing, Vinalhaven entrepreneur Rachel Noyes is celebrating the 20th anniversary of her gift shop, Go Fish. The shop offers gifts, toys, candy, jewelry, clothing and more, but Noyes says it started with one T-shirt.

“I never planned on being a business person,” said Noyes. She had moved to Vinalhaven to be with her now-husband, Drew, and was looking for work. In the meantime, Noyes, a very creative person, designed a T-shirt depicting the buildings of the island’s Main Street. She had the shirts printed and began selling them in local shops and at the Saturday morning flea market. The shirts were a hit and became the must-have island souvenir for locals and visitors alike. 

“I didn’t even know I wanted Go Fish,” said Noyes. But when a large storefront on Main Street became available, Noyes’s wheels started turning. 

“I had no background or idea of what it was to own a business,” she said, “but I was selling my T-shirts everywhere, and I thought if I had my own store I could sell them.”

The building Noyes was looking at to house her then-unnamed business had long been known as the go-to place for kids to buy candy. 

“Going to that place, Agnes and Doris, they were always happy to see you,” said Noyes of the women who used to run what was affectionately known as “the candy store.” Noyes used that memory to fuel her business plan. Having a candy counter, she said, “Literally was the only thing I knew I was going to do.” And that candy counter has been the centerpiece of Go Fish since day one.

“The candy counter never fails to delight. It makes everybody happy.” Noyes pointed to children’s “saucer-eyes of wonder” as evidence, and said occasionally she will invite parents to come behind the counter, just to see the expression on their children’s faces.

And Noyes did begin selling her Main Street T-shirts at Go Fish, along with a new design almost every year. Customers ask, “What’s the T-shirt this year? What’s the new design?”  she said. “They’ve got to have it. I guess I have a gimmick and didn’t even know it.”

Noyes plans to frame a sample of each of her T-shirts from years past and hang them in the store as a way of acknowledging her 20 years in business.

Having changed location three times, Noyes admits it’s “very challenging” to run an island business. Carrying inventory that speaks to summer visitors and to islanders alike and shifting inventory based on the seasons are only two of the difficulties faced by island entrepreneurs. However, Noyes credits her friends, family, and customers with keeping her going when she wanted to give up. 

“When someone reaches out and says something that makes you feel like you’re supposed to be doing this, they tell you how happy they are to have you there, you don’t have to hear that too many times,” she said. 

Over the years, the biggest change has been the store’s inventory. When Go Fish opened in 1998, 90 percent of the stock was toys. Today, toys represent about 30 percent of stock, with the remainder filled out by clothing and gifts.

“I haven’t been able to maintain being open year-round,” she said. “I wanted to be a shop for the island, but it’s become more seasonal. I spent many years struggling to make it work, but now I feel like I’ve found a new formula that is sustaining me. My attitude has shifted. I’m hopeful,” she said.

“Being your own boss comes with lots of stress, but having something you created that people adore is pretty cool. I like being Mrs. Go Fish.”