The Road Less Traveled: The Map Shop
Ted Northrup, 62, co-owns the shop that sells print and digital maps in an age of Google Maps and smartphones
A couple in Greenville, South Carolina had a very well-known shop for years called The Map Shop, and they decided to start one here in Charlotte in ’91. My wife went to work for them, part-time, in ’92, and I had gone back
to school for my MBA at night.
On the last day of my last class—which happened to be entrepreneurship—the owners [of The Map Shop] called and said, “We’re going to close the business.” We said, “How about if we just buy it from you?” And that’s what happened in June of ’95.
We make our own maps. We don’t make all of our own maps, but we are a map publisher. That allows us to make maps that are customized. When you were coming in, that was FedEx on the phone. They order a lot of what we call professional drivers—street atlases. You would think they would be glued to their GPS, but they’re not, because with a route, the driver can’t see the big picture like with an atlas. We make them designed just for delivery drivers. That’s a niche.
One of our most popular custom maps is for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their belief is witnessing, but they don’t want to have two churches go to the same house. So they carve up a territory, and every church has a boundary. They use our maps to make sure they cover their entire area.
We’ve been doing pulldown maps for schools almost since day one. We started to realize that classrooms were going more digital, using smartboards and such. So we created an e-Map Shop. So now we can ask social studies teachers, “What are the areas of the curriculum that you can’t find maps for?” And we just make ’em.
We have 10,000 different maps. But people still stump us every day. Yesterday someone wanted a 1975 railroad map. You know, sorry, we don’t have that.
We used to be right next to the Uptown Cabaret, and there are all kinds of stories there. This one lady, it turns out she wasn’t crazy, but she came in asking for a map of the aboriginal area of Nunavut. I thought she was just delusional. Turns out it’s actually the very northern area of Canada. We still didn’t have the map.
Kids are more fun because they’re more enthusiastic. Some grownups come in and they’re almost ashamed of it. They use this hushed voice: I’m a map lover. Don’t tell anybody. Or they think it’s nerdy. But it’s not. Not here. —Ted Northrup