The airport pilot supply store can become like a second home to aviators — especially if the store has been in the same family for decades.
Nancy Griffith has owned and operated The Aviator’s Store and Aviation Book Co. at King County International Airport/Boeing Field in Seattle for the last 32 years. She recently put the business up for sale.
“I’m ready to retire,” said Griffith. “I’m ready to sleep in, and do some skiing, some gardening and visit friends.”
The face of the Aviator’s Store, located on the northeast side of the airport, features a stylized painting of a B-17 coming straight at you. A marquee board on the outside of the building proclaims NEW SECTIONALS ARE IN and other announcements that are pertinent to pilots. Inside the store you find the usual pilot supplies, such as headsets, sectionals and sunglasses, along with more gift items such as calendars, toys and Christmas ornaments. Many a pilot picked out his or her first flight jacket there, a cockpit poster, or bought the text books needed to advance their careers.
For those who can’t come to The Aviator’s Store in person, the Aviation Book Co. is their online portal.
Griffith acknowledges that the Internet was still 10 years away when she started at KBFI, but she was quick to embrace the virtual shopping marketplace and the online side of the house has flourished.
“We sell wholesale to schools, libraries and book stores,” Griffith said, adding that some of the gift items from The Aviator’s Store are also available online.
At the front of the store by the cash register is a sign stating “Thank you for shopping locally.” Although the online part of the store does brisk businesses, Griffith appreciates the human contact that the brick and mortar establishment makes possible.
“This is where a lot of people get their aviation calendars and Christmas ornaments,” she said, looking around the store. “We also have people who come in daily, just to say hello or to get a copy of a magazine.”
For 32 years Griffith leased the 2,400-foot-square foot store and the 1,200-square-feet warehouse attached to the store from Galvin Flying Services, one of the oldest FBOs in the Pacific Northwest. Griffith’s store and the warehouse were part of Galvin’s 20-acre holdings, which include several subleases for smaller businesses, including an aviation parts supply business and a simulator-based flight training center.
In February, Galvin Flying Services was purchased by Landmark Aviation, one of largest FBO chains in the world. It is Griffith’s understanding that the new business owner will take over her $2,250 per month lease for the store, and perhaps the $550 a month she pays for the warehouse — at least for the time being. She adds she’s heard talk about demolishing the 1960s era buildings and building more modern facilities.
Amanda Hoffman, marketing manager for Landmark Aviation, noted that as the FBO chain acquired Galvin just one month ago, there hasn’t been time to create a plan of action.
According to Leslie Barstow, public and community relations manager for KBFI, the plan to demolish the old buildings pre-dates Landmark Aviation’s purchase of Galvin.
“For the better part of five years there has been talk about replacing the older buildings with new structures, but there is no timeline for that now that I am aware of,” said Barstow. “The lease that Galvin/Landmark has requires them work with the tenant to provide space for them at fair market value. The new owner of the Aviator’s Store will have to negotiate a lease with Landmark.”
The building has lots of memories for the Griffith family. Griffith’s daughters, both adults now, worked on and off at the store over the years and often joined their mother at aviation conferences and trade shows where The Aviation Book Co. and The Aviator’s Store exhibited. The show booth often hosted aviation humorist and educator Rod Machado. Griffith’s businesses carry Machado’s books and he often sits in the booth to talk to fans and sign copies for them.
“Rod is such a lovely man, he always does book signings for us at the shows,” said Griffith. “He is the loveliest man, so kind and generous and brilliant.”
The Aviator’s Store has also been the focal point of social activities at KBFI. Griffith has loaned her space for FAA safety meetings and educational seminars. She has also hosted Air Combat, a traveling show that allows non-pilots to get a combat-like experience in aerobatic aircraft. She and her staff often found themselves waiting on members of the Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration team who come to town for Seafair, Seattle’s summer boating and aviation festival.
“We’ve had rock stars come in, we’ve had people who are very high profile, people who keep a very low profile — they all come in,” she said.
Griffith proudly notes she’s had some generational employees.
“I’ve had people whose mom or dad worked here, and then they work here,” she said. “They remember it as the most fun job they had.”
Over the years, about 50 people have worked at the store. She noted that on the Aviation Book Co. side of the house, employees would stay about two years, “then move on.”
In the store, employees stay longer, she said.
“I have one employee, Kirstin Potter who has been with me for 25 years,” she said.
Although she’d looking forward to retiring and having more time for herself, Griffith isn’t in a rush to sell.
“I will sell when I find the right person,” she said. “In business it can take awhile. I am hoping that I will find the right person by this summer so that someone can be geared up by the holidays.”
For more information: TheAviatorsStore.com