Troubled waters lead to wave of success for Tahoe City mariner
Special to the Sun
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The 2007 Great Recession changed the course of countless lives, their homes, jobs and businesses collapsing in the wake of the crisis, from North Lake Tahoe to North Port, Fla. — and everywhere in between.
While trying to remain afloat in a sea of endless layoffs, Greg Mickiewicz fell victim of the crash when, in the summer of ‘08, he was laid off by boat-dealing powerhouse, Cope and McPhetres Marine, formerly located at the Tahoe City Marina.
“Cope and McPhetres was a huge player in the boat sales game on the West Coast,” Mickiewicz recalled. “When we were all laid off, no one knew what the hell they were going to do.”
Mickiewicz rode out the winter wave of seasonal work, but Cope and McPhetres wasn’t as buoyant in the troubled waters brought on by the recession.
The company ultimately jumped ship for good, leaving the lakefront retail space in Tahoe City empty for the first time in over a decade.
A NEW OPPORTUNITY
After treading the choppy waters of unemployment and uncertainty, Mickiewicz’s compass began to steer him in a familiar direction: the Tahoe City Marina, where a new door of opportunity had blown open.
At the time, boat retail sales were like a fast-sinking ship, but Mickiewicz’s old friends in the marina’s service department suggested he open a small-scale pro shop to help re-anchor the lakefront commercial space.
“People weren’t buying new boats at all, but they were using their existing boats, so they still needed dock lines, wakeboards, and water skies — stuff like that,” Mickiewicz said. “I still couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I figured I had nothing to lose.”
During his time at Cope and McPhetres, Mickiewicz had established strong ties with the general manager of the marina, who welcomed the not-so-ancient mariner back by offering him time to find his entrepreneurial sea legs.
“Ironically, getting laid off actually turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me,” he said. “It was hard to see that at the time, but then things started to come full circle and slowly but surely, the business just grew.”
A TASTE FOR SURF AND TURF
A risk-taker at heart, the Boston-bred Italian had been testing the waters outside his comfort zone long before he dove headfirst into the dicey boat industry.
After high school, he flew the Boston coop to attend college in Boulder, Colo., and even more so, to live out his passion for big mountain skiing.
Apart from a three-month stint on Semester at Sea – a ship-based study abroad program around the World – as well as six months spent chasing the winter in New Zealand, Mickiewicz spent most of his late teens and early twenties virtually land-locked.
“I was off the water for the better part of 10 years, and it really wasn’t until I moved to Tahoe that I realized how much I missed it,” Mickiewicz said. “Funny thing is, I moved here for the skiing without even thinking much about the lake.”
Since Mickiewicz was a boatman practically since birth and a skier for nearly as long, the Tahoe Basin appealed to his two greatest passions in ways he never even considered — and likely never would have — if not for the success of Tahoe Marine Supply.
MALIBU MODELS FLAUNT ON TAHOE
What started in 2009 as a 500-square-foot watersports retail and rental shop has since grown to become the 3,500-square-foot success story it is today, and it boasts the largest pro shop and boat dealership within 100 miles of Lake Tahoe.
While that radius is admirable, Mickiewicz cast his net even further by securing a partnership with Sacramento-based Malibu retailer, Larson Marine, hooking him an inventory fleet of brand new Malibu models, and establishing the trifecta as the largest Malibu dealership team west of the Mississippi.
All titles aside, there’s a talent at Mickiewicz’s fingertips that seems to fulfill him in a way no award or label ever will.
“My grandfather was an old navy guy, and before he passed away, he taught me how to splice lines, so I actually make most of the buoy lines for the lake — it’s my winter project,” he said, beaming in a blend of pride and humbleness.
Even as Mickiewicz is wrapping up his best summer to date, it’s clear his ambition will continue to steer the course, and that he will ride this wave of success as far as it goes.
“Living in resort towns is tough and you wind up working so many different jobs and even then, you’re still scraping by,” Mickiewicz said. “I feel pretty fortunate that things worked out the way they did. I mean, to go from being laid off and then one year later, to start a business, and then watching it grow, it’s really good to stop and think back on how I got here.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at email@example.com.