It’s All Downstream From Here

how kayak rentals stayed afloat

The motto here is to “keep on keeping on.” Workers sit at a picnic table doodling and soaking up the sun, waiting for customers to rent anything from kayaks, paddle boards or mountain bikes. 

Tie-dyed pink and blue kayaks and loads of paddle boards are stuffed into a wooden rack which sits on hot sand. Farther down the cove, the top half of an aluminum kayak labeled “ADK River Rentals,” juts out of bright green grass in an inlet off the Ausable River.

Past the Carpenter’s Flat Bridge, a historic Warren Steel Truss bridge built in 1941, is a sign reading “Adirondack River Rentals,” written in hand-drawn green lettering. It sports the Adirondack River Rental logo, a burnt orange circle with a sketch of the mountains. On top of the sign is an orange and white kayak, letting customers know they’ve made it to the right spot. Families, locals and out-of-staters pull onto the dirt road off of Route 9. They are ready for an excursion on the water. 

Greg Johnson, the co-owner of Adirondack River Rentals says, “It’s nice that we work in a business of recreation where it’s kind of a double benefit where we can have fun and go paddling and give other people a good time.”

Johnson and co-owner Abe Munn took over operations at Kayak Shack, a retail and rental shop for all things paddling. Johnson worked at Kayak Shack on and off since 2014. The owner had another full-time career as a realtor, so Johnson approached her with the idea of taking over the business. The transition was seamless.

“I knew the place like the back of my hand,” says Johnson. 

This was the perfect way for him to get his feet wet in the business world and in the Ausable River. Johnson asked Munn, his longtime best friend, whether he would be interested in joining him in the business. The two grew up together since they were “really really little.” They played sports together and Johnson views Munn’s family as a second family to his own. 

“We’re like brothers. We fight once in a while but we’re always going to be best friends and we never let business come between us, which is good,” Johnson says. 

The two were both at a place in their lives where they were ready for a change. Who better to go into business with than your best friend?

 “At the end of the day, we’re a really good team,” says Johnson. 

Johnson and Munn transformed Kayak Shack into Adirondack River Rentals, opening in May of 2019.

The first summer was harmonious. Adirondack River Rentals hosted kids camps, paddleboard yoga classes and river parties with a campfire that summer. 

But in March 2020, the world shut down. A lot was unknown for the business. Four weeks before they were set to open, their landlord broke the news that they could no longer rent to Adirondack River Rentals. Johnson and Munn scrambled to find another homebase. 

“I contacted the gentlemen across the river and somehow got a hold of him and his email happened to be Scottcanoe,” says Johnson. “It was awesome that he was a paddler.”

The new landlord and his daughter happened to be competitive canoe paddlers and part of The Canoe Association. They were supportive of Adirondack River Rental. The new location was only 40 yards across the river but it was technically in a new town, so Johnson and Munn worked quickly to get town permitting. 

Despite all the setbacks and challenges, their business grew by 90%. They decided to extend business hours and hire more staff. They continued to host events like the river clean-up, where they fish out trash and tires from the water, with the help of sponsors and their community.  

“People just really wanted to get outdoors. It seemed like even with the Canadian border being closed, a whole bunch of our business actually grew by a lot.”

Johnson saw more people coming up from the tri-state area. The outdoor recreation boom led to a 56% increase in the sale of paddlesports from June 2019 to June 2020 across The United States, according to the NPD group. Rentals did especially well because most kayak sellers sold out during the pandemic. 

Now, Johnson is shifting his attention to opening a campground on the riverside area. 

“We’re trying to grow again as the campground and really try to offer people a wholesome experience where they can stay, they can paddle, they can mountain bike and they can go hiking,” says Johnson. “It’s almost like a whole Adirondack experience at one stop.”  

They are going to offer riverside campsites for tents only. Much like the Ausable Point Campground, customers will be able to set up camp and go hiking or paddling right outside their tent door. Johnson expects the business to grow by at least 50% with the addition of the campsites.  He believes that people want to spend more time experiencing outdoor activities.

“It’s not really just a trend that’s happening; it seems to be growing more and more each year. So, we expect to be pretty busy,” says Johnson. 

Johnson is excited to make more memories with customers and staff this summer.

“Someone has always got a different story,” says Johnson. “Someone falls in the river or gets tipped over or they come back and say how much fun they had.” 

Here the staff is like family, literally and figuratively. Munn’s sister, along with a couple of her friends, work at Adirondack River Rental in the summer. Johnson says when one person is late there’s always someone else willing to help out.  

“We’re gonna have a lot of the same staff there — they’re dynamite. We’re all a bunch of knuckleheads but we make it work,” says Johnson.

Johnson tries to be on location at Adirondack River Rentals as much as possible. It’s the reason he went into the outdoor recreation industry. “If I can be out in the sun helping other people have fun that’s kind of a great spot to be.”

Johnson and the Adirondack River Rental crew can be caught soaking up the sun from 10 to 8 p.m. all summer long. Visitors can float on down the Ausable River for the day or stay overnight and stargaze, listening to the gurgling of the river.

Story by Sierra McGivney

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