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City's last independent map retailer set to fold

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Technology finally caught up with Indianapolis’ only independent map retailer.

After a 27-year run, Odyssey Map Store will close on Aug. 31, owners Tim and Dayle Gravenstreter announced Wednesday.

The husband and wife had considered shutting the doors for quite some time but tried to keep the downtown store at 902 N. Delaware St. open as long as possible.

Odyssey Map Store co-owner Dayle GravenstreterOdyssey co-owner Dayle Gravenstreter is the store's only employee. (IBJ Photo/Perry Reichanadter)

“This is a long time coming,” Tim, 62, lamented as he surveyed the merchandise of maps.

The couple attribute the store's demise to the proliferation of GPS units and smart phones, which have helped to render traditional paper maps nearly useless.

A decline in domestic and foreign travel, and a softening of the wall map and gift markets, hasn’t helped either, they said.

In fact, by today’s standards, Odyssey might be considered a relic. Indianapolis’ only other independent map retailer, Mid-States Map and Globe, closed nearly 15 years ago.

That leaves book superstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders to sell maps and travel books. But even those chains are closing stores as they face stiff competition from electronic reading devices.

Tim’s love for maps and atlases as a child prompted him and Dayle to open Odyssey in 1984 in the City Market. The store rapidly outgrew its space and, in 1986, it moved to 148 N. Delaware St. Odyssey has been at its current location since 1993.

They bought the building and occupy 1,200 square feet, leasing a portion of the one-story structure to a small law practice.

The maps, atlases and globes that line the shelves pale in value compared to the treasure trove of historic maps stored in the basement.

The couple through the years has acquired a large collection of Marion County maps once used for insurance purposes. The neighborhood maps detailing the Irvington or Pogues Run areas, for instance, indicate by color which homes are constructed of wood or brick, to help determine insurance rates.

An 1889 map of Irvington shows where Butler University was located before it moved to its present location in 1928.

The Gravenstreters reproduce the maps for framing and are undecided about what to do with the rare collection. The new merchandise will be liquidated at sale prices.

“We certainly won’t have a fire sale on these [rare items] because we’d never see them again,” Tim said. “For us, they’re a genealogical treasure trove.”

The store never has been a big moneymaker. Annual revenue through the years topped out north of $150,000, Tim estimated. Even 10 years ago, sales still hit $140,000. But, by 2010, they had plummeted to $55,000.

In 2000, Tim formed the Countrywide Guides & Maps division, which publishes booklets of information about counties. He’ll continue that operation.

At one time, the couple considered any profit as college money for their sons. It also helped supplement Tim’s income as a district manager for a utility consulting firm.

Odyssey also employed a manager and one employee, both of whom are gone now. The only employee remaining is Dayle.

Many Odyssey customers are business travelers who need to learn their way around town for a few days. But some rather unusual individuals have been known to patronize the store. Once, a customer came in looking for a map of Mars because he was building a spaceship.

And then there was the mysterious incident with the Russians. According to Dayle, two Russian military pilots came into the store back in the 1990s looking for topographic maps of the area. Shortly after they left, two FBI agents showed up asking questions. The Gravenstreters never knew what became of the pilots.

If a customer needs a map of Reykjavik, Iceland, Odyssey has one in stock. That’s the type of assorted inventory the store carries.

But not one globe can be spotted in the basement, which once was full of them.

“Today, many Internet purveyors will sell one at retail for less than we paid wholesale,” Tim said. “We can’t compete with that.”

 

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  • Cartophile
    I was delighted when your store opened while I working downtown. I went in often. I know I bought family gifts. There is nothing like looking at a large map to get the whole picture. I get out my Nat'l Geo world map to see where all the countries fit in this world. I hate that lady in my car that is always "recalculating!" A map never did that to me!!
  • HAY Paul Holmgren
    Paul: I am one in the same. Shortridge class of '68.
  • Collector
    I would love to have those old maps of the county but see the point that they should be shared. Too bad we don't have a Cartography Museum.
  • HAY
    I used to go to a school at 34th and meridian, and there was a Tim Gravenstreter there too!
    :-) Hay Hay guy!
    • Sad to read this:
      I grew up in Indy (I've lived in Wilmington, Delaware the past 38 yrs). I've been a map lover since early childhood and on occasional visits to Indy one of my first stops would be the Odyssey Map Store. I agree with other comments that electronic maps just don't convey the overall picture that a good paper map shows. I've always found it interesting to see the mapped layout changes in cities, states, etc. over time. Times change of course, but this is a change I had hoped would never come.
    • EstaMay "no map on website"
      Good observation! The reason we don't have a map on our website is most local-area people know where N Delaware Street is (in downtown Indy). Most of our out-of-area web visitors order by phone, so a map is unneeded by them.
    • Maps are available locally
      Indianapolis is the home of Herff Jones, Inc. which has a wide assortment of maps and globes through it's Education Division. Wonderful products for educators and the public.
    • Soil Surveys
      rick: The county used to have booklets (11X15 maybe?) of areial photos from the 1960's of Marion County. They may be hard to find but if you luck into one, they are really cool. Google Eaeth has a wayback type slider that goes back to 1992. Not too old but still unique and something to be built upon.
    • Will Miss Odyssey
      As someone who likes maps, this is a big dislike. Just drove by the other day going north on Delaware and thought about what a little treasure it is.
    • history
      It would be nice to find pictures of what some of the city's most built up areas looked like 60-70 years ago. Areas like 21st & Post, 82nd & Allisonville or 46th & Arlington had to be quite rural then.
      • You are right Nick!
        I hope the State Library or Historical Society will step in as you suggest. The likes of Barnes & Noble, Borders and AAA will not be able to replicate Odyssey Map Store. Yes, they did have current maps and atlases, but the attraction for me was perusing the old maps. Yes, you can go online, but you can't really see the beauty of an old map without seeing the actual ink on the actual paper.
      • Maps are still available at AAA
        AAA Motor Club still offers free maps to their members. The GPS and Smart phones do not show a complete picture of where you are going to; they only show a very small (2x2 inch) section for direction purposes. Paper maps show a complete picture and are easier to use. Sorry to see a long time merchant close their business!
      • Maps are still available at AAA
        AAA Motor Club still offers free maps to their members. The GPS and Smart phones do not show a complete picture of where you are going to; they only show a very small (2x2 inch) section for direction purposes. Paper maps show a complete picture and are easier to use. Sorry to see a long time merchant close their business!
      • Website
        I just checked their website, and the ironic thing is, they don't have a map to their store on it.
        • Unique Opportunity?
          The Indiana State Library or Indiana Historical Society should step in to save this unique collection of Indiana maps before they are disbursed and lost forever for future generations.

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