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CC’s Pirate Treasures: Sea dog supplies in South Lake Tahoe

A woman wearing a pirate’s hat and coat is smiling while looking toward the camera. She is standing in a store with merchandise behind her, including magnets, notebooks, monkey plush toys and more, sporting pirate-themed motifs.
Cole Payne
CC’s Pirate Treasures owner Cindy Rawlings dons pirate gear while standing in her store in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Pirates once ruled the seas — even the Great Lakes — but never Lake Tahoe. Despite that, a pirate-themed store in South Lake Tahoe has been thriving for more than 20 years.

Tucked away in a shopping plaza in South Lake Tahoe, one store stands out for its uniqueness. And it’s not something you’d expect to find in this town known for water and snow sports.

Walk into CC’s Pirate Treasures and you’ll find a bounty of pirate-themed items collected by the owner, Cindy Rawlings. She also goes by the pirate name “Saucy CC.”

“Looking around, pirate socks, pirate toys, pirate blankets,” Rawlings said. “Pirate, just you name it — we’ve got it.”

Boots set in a circular configuration on top of a clothing rack.
Cole Payne
Aside from costumes, more authentic pieces also lined the shelves.

Novelty items make up much of the store including cartoonish pirate costumes, plastic skull home decor and graphic T-shirts with puns. More authentic pieces such as genuine leather coats or hats also line the crowded shelves. Pirate flags and hats are some of the best sellers, particularly with boaters.

“I see ‘em (sic) on boats out on the lake, I see ‘em (sic) flying, yeah, on houses,” Rawlings said. “Probably got that at my store!”

Children can also find treasures of their own, including foam swords, model ships and heaps of plastic gold and gems.

“I also probably like selling our little, sounds silly, our little fake jewels,” she said. “Because, oh, kids come in here and they go, ‘look at all the treasures!’ ”

Beyond sea dog supplies, CC’s Pirate Treasures sells Lake Tahoe souvenirs. In addition to the typical shot glasses, magnets and postcards, there are also handcrafted pieces from local artisans.

“I don’t like anybody to walk out empty-handed,” Rawlings said. “Almost anyone can find something that tickles their fancy.”

A close up of merchandise in a store. Eight small sculptures of skeletons dressed up as animals are lined up in a row. Behind them is a display of pirate-themed postcards.
Cole Payne
Gift shop staples like postcards are sprinkled throughout the titular pirate store.

Evan Adams from San Jose was visiting his partner Rebecca Lotloit when they went to Lakeview Plaza for a late lunch. After their meal, Lotloit spotted CC’s Pirate Treasures across the indoor shopping center. Neither claimed to be fans of pirates, but the two share a love for the macabre.

“So, that’s one thing we bonded over actually, was skulls,” Adams said. “Things like that, from the beginning. What was that?”

“Skulls and flowers,” Lotloit said to him.

“The mixture of skulls and flowers together,” he said. “So that isn’t something we looked for lately, but that is something we gravitate to.”

Moments after Adams spoke, Rawlings showed the couple a wreath made of sunflowers with a skull in the center.

Both of them found items that called to them. Lotloit, who said she enjoys the “romantic” style of old pirate clothing, appreciated the skirts and corsets. For Adams, it was a shirt that caught his eye.

“I happened to find a Western snap shirt with skulls on it today, which is awesome,” he said.

Rawlings’ voyage began back in 2003, when she and friends dressed as pirates to sell trinkets at craft fairs. It started as a gimmick, but Rawlings was surprised by people offering to buy the costumes off their backs. She attributed the boost in demand to Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, released that same year. The movie made more than $650 million worldwide and Johnny Depp’s “Captain Jack Sparrow” brought pirates to pop culture.

“And all my vendors, all of a sudden — someone who never made anything pirate — came up with some type of pirate merchandise,” Rawlings said. “So, instead of searching, I was bombarded with choices to fill the store with.”

With demand high, Rawlings opened the first CC’s Pirate Treasures in 2004 as a shared retail space. Multiple expansions and almost 20 years later, Rawlings’ anchor is now planted in Lakeview Plaza. She originally wasn’t into pirates. However, after years of selling the products, she began reading pirate history and found it fascinating.

Tourists and beachgoers keep the store busy in the summer, Rawlings said. She expects August to be a lucrative month with Burning Man coinciding with the 28th Annual Valhalla Renaissance Fair. During the slower winter seasons, local shoppers help batten down the hatches.

“It’s just a fun and unique perspective on having a retail store,” Rawlings said. “It’s different. I can go more out of the box. Sell more random, off the wall things that I think maybe some other places couldn't quite get away with.”

Cole Payne is a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism. The story was produced in partnership with the school’s Lake Tahoe News Project.