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After 25 years, Starrk Moon kayak shop's going strong

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Brad Nelson owns Starrk Moon Inc., a York County kayak and gear business tucked away along a dead-end road in Peach Bottom Township near the banks of the Susquehanna River.
Brad Nelson owns Starrk Moon Inc., a York County kayak and gear business tucked away along a dead-end road in Peach Bottom Township near the banks of the Susquehanna River. - (Photo / )

Brad Nelson moved up from Glen Burnie, Md., in 1979 to try to help save his parents' farm in southern York County. He brought his passion for canoeing and his canoes with him.

Nor far away sat a house down a dead-end road near where Muddy Creek empties into the Susquehanna River that was perpetually for sale.

When the family lost the farm, he bought the house in 1980 and moved in. Often, he'd see canoe clubs from far and wide on their way to and from the water.

"And I thought this was a hell of a place for a shop," said Nelson, owner of Starrk Moon Inc.

Nelson didn't set out to create a kayak business when he opened the shop in the late 1980s.

"I was really a canoe guy, and I was even a canoe guy up here for the longest time, and then eventually I started the shop," Nelson said.

But kayaks from Europe in the 1980s had larger cockpits and were game changers. The wider cockpit helped to make the craft more user-friendly and the activity accessible to more people, he said.

Starrk Moon Kayaks became a dealer for products from United Kingdom-based Pyranha Mouldings Ltd., and Nelson continues to sell the company's kayaks to this day.

New kayaks that Starrk Moon sells can run about $1,000 or more, but Nelson has deals that include used kayaks for much less.

"When you're in a canoe, you're missing it. You're elevated," Nelson said. "In a kayak, you're down in the water, and you feel that motion of the water going by your legs and your body."

The shop still operates on the property in Peach Bottom Township. The location seems to be in the middle of nowhere — but Nelson takes a wider view.

"If you look at this place on a map, I'm 17 miles from (Interstate) 95," Nelson said.

Nelson doesn't do online sales, and he won't sell anyone a product that isn't a right fit (he even takes into consideration the customer's personality). Also, he doesn't operate any other locations that might be more conveniently located, although at one time he did have them in Maryland and West Virginia.

"One person selling kayaks for 25 years," Nelson gives as his answer for the business's success. "Kayaking is a sport of information, and so it's not like you walk into a box store and somebody's been in that department for two weeks."

Nelson said he doesn't know how many kayaks he sells each year from the shop, which is crammed with watercraft and gear.

One tactic Nelson used to grow interest in the activity was selling kayaks to kids who lived near his shop with an easy-payment plan, which means they'd pay him when they got the money.

One of those kids is Dinver McClure. He grew up along the Susquehanna River just down from Nelson. One day, McClure and one of his friends were bored and went to the shop, he recalled. They were interested in kayaks but didn't have any money.

"And he just said, 'Take them along and pay me when you have the money,'" McClure said. "Typical Brad style to this day."

After high school, McClure worked locally but got laid off. He went to Colorado and met a person who sold kayaks who asked if McClure wanted to work for him.

"And I said I really didn't want to move to Colorado. And he says, 'I have a warehouse back in Baltimore, Md.,'" McClure recalled.

McClure now works for the U.S. division of Pyranha in North Carolina.

Kayaking and paddle sports in general have been one of the best-growing areas of outdoors sports, because they offer something for everyone, said Christine Fanning, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based The Outdoor Foundation.

From oceans and creeks to flat water and whitewater, people in pretty much every part of the country can participate, she said. Businesses that got into it early are seeing the rewards, Fanning said.

Michael Betts first found Starrk Moon in the 1990s after he'd been laid off from a job. He was looking for outdoor activities.

Betts, who is vice president of the Conewago Canoe Club in York County, said he made the trip to the shop and the activity took hold.

"The shop is very cool and laid back," he said. "It's a unique experience. For an outdoors person, and really for a lot of people, it's just such a cool experience."

Betts said he's been at the shop when people from several states have all been there at once. He said he's probably bought at least a couple dozen kayaks at Starrk Moon.

"And I'll probably be dealing with him for another 20 years," Betts said.

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