Allen Marine to close Juneau store

City's marine, boating industry takes a hit in economic downturn

Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2008

One of Juneau's biggest marine sales and service stores is closing this month.

David J. Sheakley / Juneau Empire
David J. Sheakley / Juneau Empire

Sitka-based Allen Marine Sales & Service Inc. will close the doors of its Lemon Creek store Sunday. The company is keeping its Sitka store, but moving it to a cheaper property, according to Sitka store manager Lawrence Poitra.

Poitra said the store was closing partly because the distance between the company's Sitka home base of managers and the Juneau store proved more difficult than they had expected.

And then, of course, there's the declining economy.

"It's been harder and harder to make a profit in the marine industry," he said. "We're doing what any good company would do in a time like this."

That's backed up by industry numbers and others in the business. Recreational boating industry sales were down 16 percent for the 12 months ending in June this year from last year, according to Kelly Kaylor of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which tracks statistics for the $37.5 billion U.S. industry.

Alaska-specific numbers are less current, but 2007 spending declined 16 percent, to $150 million.

Local boat mechanics and Allen Marine's competitors said they weren't surprised to hear about Allen Marine closing, partly because of the economic conditions.

"It's tough right now. I'm busy, but I'm only one man," said Bill League of Tanner's Service Center Inc. in Douglas.

Western Auto-Marine General Manager John Weedman said he'd just come back from three marine trade shows, where the marine manufacturers were "nervous about the near term."

Weedman said he'd be sorry to see the Allen Marine store close.

"They were a good customer of mine," he said. "And they brought a good boat to the market."

Willie's Marine General Manager Kent Adams said he was familiar with certain business challenges here, such as hiring good employees. But he wasn't looking forward to seeing his biggest competition go down.

"People in Juneau need to have more than one choice about who to deal with," he said. "I'm a believer in competition."

Some customers had come in recently wondering if he would match Allen Marine's fire-sale prices, but he declined.

"I'm actually planning on being in business next year," he told them.

Closing the Juneau store is no harbinger of trouble for the rest of Allen Marine, said Poitra.

Allen Marine was founded by Bob and Betty Allen of Sitka in the 1970s. The business is still run by the Allen family, led by President David Allen, and has expanded its operations since then.

Allen Marine Tours runs day cruises in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka, and is the flagship of the company's sales. Its Juneau operation became its largest this year, after the company bought its competitor's boats. Allen Marine Inc. is the largest shipbuilder in Alaska. And Allen Marine Safety Services does life-raft sales and repair in Sitka.

Poitra also said the company would likely try to reassign the Juneau store employees and avoid layoffs.

The company is also looking for ways to make sure its customers are in good hands. Allen Marine is currently the only licensed warranty service center for Suzuki engines in town.

"We're not just going to cut and run and leave people stranded," Poitra said.

Mechanic Michael Frank at Channel Motors saw that as an incentive to get recertified to do Suzuki warranty service. He lost his deal with the engine manufacturer last fall.

"I've been through all the schooling, I've got all the tooling," he said. "I'd better let people know I can take care of the problems."

• Contact reporter Kate Goldenat 523-2276 or e-mail

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