When Jerry Gertz founded Erie Canal Cruises, it was meant to be a side business to earn extra income in retirement. A decade later, his company welcomes thousands passengers aboard each season and is a major tourism draw in Herkimer County. Sarah Blazonis reports.
MOHAWK VALLEY, N.Y. -- Erie Canal Cruises should be hurting.
The tour company's season was cut short last year by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, eliminating the weeks of business around Labor Day. But owner Jerry Gertz says the future of the Lil' Diamond II, the company's tour boat, looks bright.
"Even though we lost 19 days of prime revenue, our business was still the best we ever had in ten years," said Captain Gertz.
Gertz expects this upcoming tenth season to be his busiest for a number of reasons. He says attendance has climbed steadily throughout the years, due in part to increased marketing of the canal.
"We're getting people from Israel, from Germany, from Ireland. We're getting them from all over," he said.
The company's new boat, Lil' Diamond III, is also expected to be a big draw.
Just three full-time captains will steer the crowds up and down the canal, including one of the state's few female captains, Coast Guard-certified Chrissie Dunadee.
"You need to make sure that everyone's safe. That's number one priority at all times. And then also making sure that the vessel is operating correctly," said Captain Dunadee.
Right now, about 12,000 passengers board Lil' Diamond II every season, but boat owners say once they have Lil' Diamond III up and running for a few years, that amount could more than double.
The county's chamber of commerce says the business is a major asset to the area, especially since tourism now outpaces manufacturing as a source of state revenue.
"Statistics show that every dollar spent on a specific tourist event, another $7 is spent in that particular area. So, whatever dollars go into the cruise, multiply that by seven, which goes into our other small businesses that are in the area," said John Scarano, executive director of the Herkimer County Chamber of Commerce.
The captains may still be putting the finishing touches on Lil' Diamond II in preparation for opening day, but she's already a bright spot in Herkimer County.
The first cruises of the season will be leaving from Gems Along the Mohawk in Herkimer on May 20. Two cruises run every day at 1 and 3 p.m. Ticket prices are $18 for adults and $12 for children. They can be purchased by calling (315) 717-0350 or by visiting Erie Canal Cruise's web site.
For more information on the cruises or the arrival of Lil' Diamond III, visit Erie Canal Cruise's web site at www.eriecanalcruises.com.