Navy Vet Makes Boats His Business | Business news

Ron Schluter discovered what floated his boat.

The 50-year-old Long Island native and retired U.S. Navy veteran launched Classic Canoes on State Route 7347 in Lake Schuyler in June, offering handcrafted cedar strip canoes, hand-carved nautical ornaments and more.

Schluter said his craft grew out of loss.

“I was in the military for 24 years, but my parents were here and I was going to stay with them when I retired,” he said. “My mum got pancreatic cancer in 2014 and I retired in 2015 so I got to spend a few months with her and then me and my stepdad built our first canoe. It was like a healing, floating memorial.

“When I was done with the boat, I had to make an oar,” Schluter continued. “From there it spiraled into building hand-carved ornaments and one-of-a-kind things. I had no real interest in starting a business, but every time you take a canoe out on the lake, everyone’s like, “Wow, I’ve got to have one of those.” I was going to start in 2020—I bought the building in 2019—but then Dad I passed away, so I was late for a whole year. I’ve been in business for a year, but I’ve been dealing with the estate and haven’t been able to spare too much time, but now I’m fully involved in the business side of it.”

Schluter said the work is a labor of love.

“There aren’t too many (people making custom canoes),” he said. “There’s a builder in Vermont and a gentleman in Long Island who build them for about $100,000 a piece, so it’s unique. You really don’t see too much. We love going to the Thousand Islands and Adirondack Museum area to see vintage boats like this one. So far we’ve had a lot of people coming… and it’s word of mouth, (because) it’s very unique, so I’ve had a lot of positive feedback.

“(How long it takes to build) depends on the canoe,” Schluter continued. “I can make one in three months. I have a couple made and also kayak. It’s a different format — not cedar, they call it stitch and glue kits — but they come out beautiful and they’re not your plastic Walmart kayak.”

Market conditions, Schluter said, are also a factor.

“It’s hard to say (the cost of a canoe or how long it takes to finish) especially with what’s going on now because I get my wood from Canada and go to Buffalo to get it,” he said. “With fuel prices, it’s terrible; a canoe will cost me about $1,500 just for the material to make it, and then you have to put in the time, but that’s the fun of doing it. It’s an expensive hobby, but if you can pick up a book and read it, you can build a boat. People ask me, “Where did you train?” but I took a book. It just takes a lot of time and a lot of patience.”

Schluter said he hopes his niche craft will generate a broad following.

“I’m retired so I’m open Friday and Saturday and I’m still trying to figure out the whole cycle here with Dreams Park and how to capture some of the tourists that come to the area,” he said. “Cooperstown is known for baseball, but there are so many beautiful lakes here; people just have to jump in, put their phone down and row. I try to promote that as well.”

“It’s about families and especially hobbyists or outdoors people,” Schluter continued. “So I’m getting the local area — Cooperstown and the Schuyler Lake area — and we’re going to do some craft shows and get out and interact, so that’s coming up this year.”

Schluter said he plans to offer education as well.

“I’m building a canoe (in the shop) so people can come down and ask questions and see how it’s being built,” he said. “There are displays in the shop where I sell hand-carved orcas, turtles and seahorses and I have goodies and wine glasses, so there are lots of handmade ornaments that are Christmas-appropriate and very unique. I also have a wood carving table and I try to organize wood carving classes so people can come in for a few hours and go home with a handmade ornament. I would like to maybe offer this two or three nights a week. It’s something you have to do and … if someone can suggest something different, that’s nice. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Although the Classic Canoes building will be open seasonally to begin with, Schluter said, he’s in it for the long haul.

“The building I’m in is an old blacksmith shop, so it’s clean,” he said. “I need to install heating, so it’s not equipped for winter service yet. I think (I’ll be open by) the end of October, just before it snows.

“It disconnects you from everyday life,” Schluter continued. “I was in the military, so I went non-stop for 24 years, just grinding. This, you can just stop. All you focus on is what you’re doing at hand and you don’t worry about the outside world or the boss or deadlines, so it’s a very nice break and it keeps me going. It’s fun and enjoyable.”

Classic Canoes is open 9am to 4pm, Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit classiccanoes.com or call 904-803-1335.

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