Paddle Shack, a kayak and canoe outfitter, carved out a niche during its 13 years in Mays Landing, but its inland location may have limited the store's success.
This summer, Paddle Shack moved to the shore of Patcong Creek in Egg Harbor Township, which owner George Sluker said has proven an ideal spot for his business.
"(The creek is) very benign," Sluker said. "It's calm. You have some tide flow, but you don't have to worry about lots of power boats or waves, things like that. It's a perfect place for this operation."
Sluker, an avid water sportsman, began kayaking in the early 1990s, when he found his trusty shell wasn't cutting it in the choppy waters of the Great Egg Harbor Bay. He quickly became infatuated with the sport, and in the late '90s started looking into offering kayak lessons as a supplement to his contracting business.
He reached out to kayak suppliers, and one rep mentioned that Mays Landing outfitter I. Goldberg, which had agreements with major manufacturers, was closing up. The representative suggested to Sluker that he pick up the slack.
"The last thing I wanted to do was have thousands of dollars in inventory and get stuck in the store," the Mays Landing resident said, laughing. "So, here I am."
Paddle Shack sells and rents kayaks and accessories from a variety of major manufacturers, and Sluker also offers lessons and holds periodic guided tours.
George Taylor, of Galloway Township, has been a patron of the store since 1999, when he bought his first kayak there.
Over the years he has developed a friendship with Sluker and grown as a kayaker, and now helps out in lessons. Taylor said it's Sluker's patience as an instructor and fair-dealing ways as a businessman that make Paddle Shack a good shop.
"He's not the type of salesperson where he'll sell you a boat just to sell it. If he thinks something might not work, he'll suggest something else," Taylor said. "That way he's getting a satisfied customer and possibly a return customer."
Sluker rents the space from Chris Baliban, who owns the adjacent 24-7 Bait and Tackle shop.
Baliban originally used the area as an overflow showroom, but had little use for it when he opened up his second location in Marmora last year. He tinkered with the idea of starting his own kayak business, but decided it would be too much, instead contacting Sluker.
Paddle Shack opened in its new location in May, and so far, the partnership has improved the fortunes of both businesses.
"I've introduced him to countless fishermen who come in the store who are interested in kayaking, the fishing and kayaking aspect," said Baliban, who lives in the Bargaintown section of Egg Harbor Township. "Along with that, his customer base moved over here, so I've acquired more bait and tackle customers."
Sluker can be found in the shop most days, along with his gregarious 4-year-old Lhasa apso, Oscar, whom he calls the store's mascot.
While the days are starting to cool down, Sluker says he expects rentals and lessons to continue through mid-October, and he's looking to partner with a local school to offer winter lessons in a pool. Paddle Shack remains open through the off season, though its hours are shorter.
When Sluker opened the business, he hoped it would become successful enough that he could run it as a standalone operation in retirement or sell it outright. So far, that plan hasn't worked out, but the new location has made it more viable. And regardless of success, Sluker is content to enjoy the ride.
"It's neat," he said. "You go out and you paddle, you don't have to out very far, and your mind, it's just … you forget about whatever other crap is going on."
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
Paddle Shack is located at 5012 Ocean Heights Ave., Egg Harbor Township. For more information, see paddleshack.com or call 609-909-5250.