Harrison Township family enjoys success in yacht sales, marina life after 100 years
August 1, 2013
HARRISON TOWNSHIP — There’s been a recent resurgence of used yacht sales, and the Velger family is enjoying the benefits.
But not every year has been as lucrative as 2013.
Four generations of the Velger family have owned and operated boat sale businesses and marinas around metro Detroit for more than 100 years, and there have been ups and downs during that time.
Rick Velger, who owns and manages Hideaway Harbor and Yacht Sales on Jefferson Avenue in Harrison Township along with his brother Bob Velger, said his great grandfather William Velger started selling bait and renting row boats in Detroit in the late 1800s.
“He started renting wooden boats on the Detroit River,” Rick Velger said. “He had a very successful business right on Alter Road.”
From there, the responsibilities of running what would later become the area’s most recognizable boat sales and marina businesses on Lake St. Clair were passed down to William’s son, Earl Velger, who opened the 180-slip Velger Boat Harbor just south of the then non-existent spillway in the 1930s.
Today, the marina is owned and run by Earl Velger Jr. and his sister Marilyn Velger. Just a short distance north on Jefferson is the 700-slip Beacon Cove Marina, Hideaway Marina, a full-service marina with 110 slips and 90 annual and summer-only storage spaces, and on the west side of the street is Hideaway Yacht Sales — each owned and run by a member of the Velger family.
“I sold my first boat when I was 13,” said Rick Velger, who can be found at Hideaway Yacht Sales showroom, helping customers with boat purchases. “Just like the rest of our family, my brother and I grew up in this business.”
Hideaway Yacht Sales calls itself the world’s largest Rinker dealer, but the business also carries a full line of Sea Hunt, Polar Kraft, Hurricane and Xcursion pontoon boats, which Rick Velger said are a very popular, inexpensive way to get into boating.
He said more people are purchasing used yachts today rather than new, but sales of new cruisers appear to be on the rise.
“Our biggest year for sales was in the mid-1980s,” said Rick Velger, 47. “There were many years, in the ’80s and ’90s, when the economy was good and people had money to spend on yachts or cruisers. Then it began to sink, but sales are coming back.”
Earl Velger Jr., 72, still operates Beacon Cove with his three partners, one of whom is a member of the Velger family, and up until a few short years ago, he also ran the showroom at the site he developed and built next to Hideaway sales. Earl Velger Jr. retired from the sales part of the family business and sold the site to Metro Boat, which about a year ago sold it to Wilson Marine.
“The economy started getting bad and it was a big operation,” said Earl Velger Jr., adding that he and his family all reside in Harrison Township. “The size of it didn’t justify the number of boats being sold at that time.”
The family also offers to its customers towboat memberships through TowBoatUS. There are 10 towboats behind Beacon Cove that will go onto the lake to aid boaters in distress.
“On July 4, we did more tows than anyone in the country,” said Rick Velger. Why so busy? Some locals claim Lake St. Clair is one of the busiest lakes in the continental United States, and in April, Bassmaster Magazine ranked it No. 1 in the 100 Best Bass Lakes of 2013.
“We get a lot of boats out on Lake St. Clair during the summer,” Rick Velger continued. “Harrison Township is called Boat Town because this is a huge boating area.”
Which means business doesn’t close when winter comes along.
“The marinas close for winter storage, but the showroom is always open,” said Rick, adding that all the marinas combined have more than 1,000 boat slips. “We buy and sell a lot of yachts in the winter.”
And Hideaway is a staple sight at local boat shows, which traditionally are held in the fall and winter, including Novi, Detroit and at Lake St. Clair Metropark. Rinker Boats named Hideaway Yacht Sales its Top Dealer for 2012, and the business sold $1 million in 360 Rinker cruisers at the 2013 Detroit Boat Show in February.
Rick Velger said while Harrison Township has changed radically since the 1930s, business remains the same and generations of families have returned to do business with generations of the Velger family.
“Back in the ’30s and ’40s, this was just a cottage area and most of the tax base came from the marinas,” he said. “Now it’s mostly residential.”
But the increase in residential property means more returning customers.
“We have a lot of repeat business — a lot of families who come to us year after year — and some customers are on their 10th boat with us,” said Rick Velger. “Just this week, I took a trade-in of a used boat that the gentleman had bought new from my grandfather during the 1980 Detroit Boat Show. Now, 33 years later, he trades it in for a new boat from his (Earl Velger Sr.’s) grandson. That’s great!”
Hideaway Harbor and Yacht Sales, as well as Beacon Cove Marina and Velger Marina, are all located on Jefferson between Shook and Crocker in Harrison Township. For more information, call (586) 493-9900.
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