New owners working to improve the facilities
ROCKPORT, Ill.—The Sitton, Blaylock and Moses families had their eye on the Two Rivers Marina for years, looking for a time when they could buy the operation.
That opportunity came last November, when former the owner, decided to sell and enjoy retirement.
“We tried several times over the last 25 years to buy it,” said Cindy Blaylock, who is one of the owners along with her father, John Sitton, and her sisters, Sherry Moses and Chris Sitton.
But the stars never quite aligned just right for them to make the purchase. The last time they made an offer was 10 years ago. Then last year, Cindy said, the owners indicated they were ready to sell.
She and her family had thought at first to do a cooperative buyout of the marina with the help of other investors. But the timeline for obtaining ownership had to happen right then, she explained. There was another offer on the table, she noted, but that interested party was from out of the country.
“And the owner was a little uncomfortable with that. She wanted a family to have it,” Cindy said.
Cindy consulted with the other members of her family because there were things they needed to consider, as well. They were 10 years older and nearing the end of their working careers. But they knew the marina was worth the money and still had a lot of life left in it. So, they decided they would go ahead and buy it right then and then think about selling shares later on down the road, or in this case, down the river.
Cindy said she grew up just across the river in Louisiana, and as a boating family, they had enjoyed docking at and using the marina practically since it opened. The family members are lifelong boaters, almost always having a boat docked at the marina. For some people, boating is a culture all its own—they are essentially residents of the river.
Before this, Cindy had been in the insurance business. So, owning a marina encompassed a whole new learning curve. She has some retail business in her work history, as well as some marketing. All that experience would be needed to run this “new” operation. But it’s also good to have people with experience and know the history of the business to make the ownership transition a smooth one.
A woman who had worked at the marina 20 years ago contacted Cindy and asked if they needed a manager. Laurell Hamilton had the expertise they were looking for, as well as the experience with the area and marina.
“We couldn’t have done it without her,” Cindy said. “She stepped in and knew things” about the operation that I would not have picked up on without reading all the manuals, Cindy added; things like how to handle the gasoline pumps.
“In Illinois,” Cindy said shaking her head, “everything has a permit. But she knew all that stuff—who to go to and who talk to. She made that process a little easier.”
The mechanic who was there when they bought the place a little less than a year ago, Cindy noted, was ready to retire, but consented to stick around and be a consultant for the next mechanic they hired.
What made this marina so marketable, she explained, is all the amenities they could offer to boaters and those who utilize their campground and rental cabins.
“This is a very nice marina,” she added. There’s a pool renters can use, as well as a bath house for those who are cruising the river and want to pull in for the day to tour the area, such as historic downtown Louisiana. Or possibly stop in to eat at the restaurant on the marina’s grounds—Fat Boys.
Cindy said the family leases the restaurant space. At first they thought it would be at least a year before they found someone who wanted the space. But soon after they took ownership, the family was contacted about leasing the restaurant space.
This marina makes a really nice day trip for people as far away as Keokuk, Iowa or the St. Charles or Alton areas, she said.
There are coin operated washers and dryers for campers and boaters, as well as day users. There’s a boat ramp that is accessible just outside the marina gates that people can use for free. At night, the marina gates are closed and can only be accessed using an electronic key card, much like a hotel room key.
Being in a sheltered marina, Cindy added, makes the boat ramp easier for people to launch or load their vessels. Across the river at the Army Corps of Engineer’s free boat ramp, people have to deal with the river’s current when loading and unloading, Cindy noted.
The marina even has car available for boaters who come in and rent a slip, so they can go and get groceries or do a little sightseeing.
They have a Mercury certified boat mechanic available and a full parts department along with a retail store for anything boat related. Some snacks are available for sale, as well as some crafts from vendors, who sell their items on consignment.
And if a boat needs something they don’t have in stock, Cindy said, they can order it and have it there in a day or two.
They are doing everything they can to keep the property well maintained, as well as make improvements that will continue to bring people back year after year.
When they bought the marina, Cindy said, the docks were at about 65 percent capacity. Now, they are up to 95 percent. The marina sits on a little more than 200 acres. There’s room for 121 boats. And they are getting ready to add another dock, which will increase their capacity to 131.
One of the current docks had been damaged by recent flooding, so they had that repaired, as well as refloating all the docks. Going into winter with most of the major maintenance taken care of, provides a lot of security, she said.
They have 11 full-time or annual campsites and space for another 10 campsites.
Sometime next year, Cindy said they hope to develop some wilderness sites along with hiking trails throughout their acreage. The Army Corps of Engineers gave them permission to create trails, and they will consult with the local Boy Scouts to find the best places for those trails.
They just finished celebrating Two Rivers Marina’s 50th anniversary. Cindy said she might have missed the date, but a few weeks ago someone posted a newspaper article on the Facebook page from when the marina was first opened—Sept. 3 1970. And that anniversary was fast approaching, she realized, when she read it. The whole family moved quickly so that they could add their Labor Day celebration to a birthday party complete with a large cake decorated with sparklers. The weekend festivities culminated in a cardboard boat race inside the marina.
Cindy said her family wanted to reach out to the original owners to invite them, so they put out word to those who remembered the marina’s early days. She wanted them to share stories about the place and the first owners.
Chris, lives in Pittsfield, Ill., where she manages a grocery store that the family also owns. Sherry, the other sister, lives in Jefferson City, so it’s up to Cindy to keep an eye on the day-to-day operations. However, they are all involved in the big decisions affecting the marina. Their father, John, spends some time helping out at the marina.
They have more events coming up this year. Next, is a catfish fishing tournament Sept. 19. They also have their Fall Fling swap meet an antique boat show coming Saturday, Oct. 17. Cindy said she was excited because Ed the Shish Kebab Guy would be there, as well. They would probably do a Trunk or Treat activity for the children.
Laurell said Santa would be visiting the marina the first week of December. But this Santa won’t have the traditional costume. He will be dressed in more causal beachwear. A band is scheduled to play during the event. And the theme will be tropical, with some palm trees decorated for Christmas, ornaments and all—and a surfboard.