GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — One of the biggest challenges Joe Ricciardi faces in business is getting people to understand exactly what it is he sells.

Ricciardi acknowledges Seafarer Ltd. is tough to describe.

His showroom carries handmade furniture, polished World War II-era ship’s binnacles, wooden boats and various types of home decor and giftware.

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“People zoom by (on Route 9), they don’t know what it is,” the 59-year-old Galloway Township resident said. “I’m not John’s furniture store, and I’m not an antique store, but I have antiques here. I have nautical here, and I have painted and antique furniture and home accents.”

Ricciardi’s business roots started in Sea Isle City, where he had summered as a child and where his grandfather owned a dry goods store.

A few years out of high school, Ricciardi opened his business in Sea Isle City in 1974 as a nautical themed gift shop on Landis Avenue.

“From Sea Isle I had it envisioned I wanted a bigger store and I wanted to do more commercial rather than having the little gift shop,” he said.

While nautical remained a large theme of the business, Ricciardi said he did not want the store to be labeled as just nautical items.

So in 1986 he bought property in Galloway Township and, with the help of his father and uncle, constructed the business’ existing 3,000-square-foot store, which includes two stories and a basement for woodworking and processing orders.

The shop deals with individual homeowners, as well as designers and seafood restaurants to add a touch of nautical to their decor.

Ricciardi said many local seafood restaurants have decorated with some of his products, including the Crab Trap and East Bay Crab and Grille. So have other businesses such as Fulton’s Crab House in Disney World and Harrah’s Lake Tahoe resort, he said.

Some of the products he carries he makes by hand in his woodworking studio. He makes kitchen tables adorned with an image of a mermaid made of seashells, small wooden tables colored to specifications, and wooden bars with an oar used as a footrest rather than the traditional brass.

This last touch was both creative and practical.

“I used to use brass, but the price of brass went up so high. If they want the brass I’ll order it for them, but (the oar) is cheaper and unique,” he said.

Not everything has that nautical feel, though. He also crafts and carries traditional wooden tables of varying sizes as well as other antique-style furniture.

The styles that use nautical items to decorate a home have changed significantly since Ricciardi got into the business.

Pieces are now used more as accents to contemporary and modern-day tastes, rather than the heavy-themes of dark furniture and fishnets hanging off walls of the past.

“You can put a nautical piece in the house, and you don’t have to have a shore house to have nautical,” he said. “Most of the beach houses aren’t that way. They’re contemporary. Nobody does a heavy, heavy nautical (theme) anymore,” he said.

Ricciardi said the economic downturn has affected his business compared to previous years, but his reputation after nearly 38 years in business helps in the long run.

“With me, business is down. It’s not like it used to be, but I think being in business all these years kind of helps because I sold to people, and now their kids are coming in and say, ‘My father had one of those,’” he said.

Ricciardi is also a regular with a booth at the annual Atlantic City Boat Show.

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