If you think the digital age has caused printed maps and charts and those colorful spinning globes so identified with grade school classrooms to be relegated to ancient relics of an earlier time, think again.
The ubiquity of smartphones and popular apps like Google Maps aside, printed maps are here to stay because they make travel easier, said Ted Northrup, aka The Map Guy.
He should know.
Northrup and his wife Patrice own The Map Shop, one of my favorite stores in Charlotte and a must-visit place for travel aficionados.
The Map Shop’s shelves, walls, floor, and even the ceiling are filled with travel necessities and travel-related items. You’ll find guide books, jigsaw puzzles of world sites, foreign phrase books, compasses, flags of every nation, nautical charts, inflatable and standing globes, travel alarms, map pins, map measurers, airplane mobiles, adaptors and converters, waist safes, eye shades, luggage locks, and, of course, maps.
The big thing is maps. They offer about 11,000 different maps. Maps for cities, counties, states, regions, countries, and the world. Wall maps and folded maps. Raised relief maps and business and zip code maps. National park hiking maps and aeronautical maps. Illustrated maps for attractions and buildings and custom maps. The traditional spring roller maps for classrooms and, yes, digital maps. They created an e-map shop that sells a software app that runs on PCs and Macs and allows K-12 teachers to display maps on smart boards. More than 250 schools from Fairbanks to Fairfax use the app.
The Map Shop has a printer that can spew out a map up to 60 inches. They mount, laminate, and frame maps. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) agent, they’ll soon be an authorized NOAA chart plotter.
One of their niche products is custom road atlases of city streets for professional drivers for delivery companies like FedEx and UPS and first responders. They devised some unique index features that help speed up the search process.
“You can understand where a street is faster with a printed map than with Google Maps because you see a bigger picture,” Northrup said. “When it’s mission critical, drivers want a paper backup.”
Maps are a great resource for road warriors and sales managers. Businesses use maps to pinpoint where their customers are.
“From a sales perspective and looking at a sales territory, a map is the only tool that shows where you’re not successful,” Northrup noted.
The Map Shop has a diverse customer base, as different segments relate to different maps. Younger people are more into adventure and hiking, according to Northrup, and older customers prefer site-seeing and world travel. Children, accustomed to looking at small screens, are quite taken with the larger, vivid, intricate graphics on the display maps.
Travelers come to The Map Shop when they’re planning trips. Many of their customers want to travel where they’re less likely to encounter Americans. They ask for maps for places like the Dalmatian Coast and the Far East, and generally are avoiding potential hot spots like Egypt.
Some of their requests are a bit off-the wall. One customer bought a chart to kayak across the Atlantic. It’s a bit worrisome for the Northrups that they haven’t heard from him since. Another customer wanted to drive all the way to Tierra del Fuego, which is an archipelago off the southern most point of the South American mainland.
The Northrups like to travel themselves. They recently drove across the U.S. with maps in hand. They didn’t get lost, but, even if they had, he wouldn’t admit it. That’s a cardinal rule when you’re in the map business.
Northrup doesn’t think so.
“A digital map is too ephemeral,” he said. “People like the big picture, and they want something tangible.”
Take that, Mapquest.