Belfast Waterfront Boat Showroom Launch – By Fran Gonzalez – Belfast – Waldo
Belfast – A new facility with freshwater and saltwater boats has opened on Belfast’s waterfront, supporting yachting and adding to the mix of maritime businesses on Front Street.
Hamlin’s Marine, in the former French & Webb building at 7 Front St., is the company’s third location in Maine, with marinas in Hampden and Waterville as well.
Co-owner Katie Higgins said the family business was started by her parents in 1984 in Waterville, where it was originally called Hamlin’s Sports World. Her husband, Dan Higgins, joined the business shortly after their marriage in 2004, she said, when her father told her he was going to hire a new salesperson named Dan.
Dan said his stepfather Dave Hamlin is keen to expand the business and is looking for an opportunity to build a new facility. In 2006, the couple stumbled upon Turtle Head Marina in Hampden, which was for sale, and saw that it was exactly what Hamlin was looking for, and according to Dan, far less money than building.
The couple partnered with Hamlin to purchase the marina and added a showroom, service, parts and storage section to the facility. They named her Marina de Hamlin. “It was a marina and there was also a shipyard with access to the Penobscot River,” he said.
“Katie and I ran the Hampden facility while Dave and his wife, Chris, ran the original shipping business in Waterville,” Dan said. The Hampden Marina expanded and the couple were later able to purchase the Waterville facilities from the Hamlins when they retired in 2016.
In April 2020, Dan said, Paul Naron, owner of the former French & Webb property and accompanying wharf, contacted him and asked if they would be interested in a sale, storage and service.
“As we spoke, we had a mutual interest in the growing boating industry and realized the general shortage of seaside slides,” he said. “There is less supply than docks.”
The partnership with Naron is good for the marina, he said, with Hamlin’s providing service and storage to the boats using the briefs developed by Naron at the dock.
The main function of the Belfast location, Dan said, is to provide a larger showroom. It is the largest of their three facilities and allows them to showcase their saltwater boats which are by nature larger. “It allows us to do what we do best, to create a boat show environment at a time when all shows have been canceled,” he said.
“We do not currently offer onsite service, but can arrange with the facilities in Waterville or Hampden and can also arrange parts pickup,” he noted.
An interesting trend has developed, Dan said, with the pandemic driving up demand in the boating industry. “The demand exceeds the supply,” he said. What’s even more exciting, he said, is that many customers are new and are getting into boating. “The COVID pandemic is creating a response we’ve never seen before.”
Their business is generally seasonal, he said, but last year sales continued until February. March is usually the launch season for new boat buyers.
“So Paul called, and we were scared of death at first,” Dan said. “We initially thought COVID would kill our business, but the demand has started to grow. People are shopping and realizing that there aren’t a lot of options out there.”
As for the selection at Hamlin’s, they have new lines of boats for both fresh and salt water that will offer something for everyone. Their biggest seller, says Dan, is the Bennington pontoon boats. They also carry Alumacraft, Weldcraft and G3 aluminum boats. Fiberglass options include Scout, Carolina Skiff, and Sea Chaser boats.
Hamlin’s is also the largest dealer of Yamaha outboard motors in the Northeast. “They are efficient, quiet and reliable,” Dan said. To support the fishing community, Hamlin’s offers many electronic accessories.
“We’ve got everything from a 12-foot rowboat to a 35-foot cruise ship and everything in between.”
Hamlin’s also owns Puffin Boats, a line of fiberglass dinghies produced at the Hampden plant. “We sell a lot through Hamilton Marine and Kittery Trading Post,” Katie said. “They’re also shipped nationwide and sales have picked up quite quickly. Our online ordering has gained a lot of ground over the past year. “
Katie and Dan said they were sailing to Belfast “forever” and watched the city grow. “We have strong roots in Belfast,” said Dan, who usually comes to play rather than work.
“I don’t think we would have the same appeal of the Waterville or Hampden facility,” Dan said. “It’s a 40 minute drive from our home in Hampden, but Belfast has its own culture and the sense of community is very strong.
“It was the first place we came by boat,” he said, and even though there was an ongoing pandemic, Belfast seemed alive.
Steve Ryan, Executive Director of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, said in a press release announcing the official opening of the Hamlin: “The arrival of Hamlin’s Marine on the Belfast waterfront is very exciting because it represents the growth continuing a heritage industry for Belfast – boats and boating.
“This growing economic cluster includes Front Street Shipyard, Belmont Boatworks, French and Webb and many other collaborating companies that bring customers to our area and also serve us locals.
“The Maine coastline is a fantastic resource, and if we can use it to support maritime businesses, we can maintain a diverse economy and be a stronger economic community because of it.”
Hamlin’s Marine will kick off the boating season on March 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a sale of freshwater boats and a grand opening of the showroom, including a ribbon cutting at 5 p.m. 14, when it ends at 4 p.m.
A two-day Candock floating dock sale is scheduled for March 26 and 27 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Think of maintenance-free plastic floating blocks held together by mounting screws. Additionally, a saltwater boat sale will be held April 8-11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with larger boats featured in the exhibit hall.
“We are very excited,” Dan said. “Paul and I are working together to organize the very first boat show in the water”, which would coincide with the Belfast Boat Show on July 9, 10 and 11.
Belfast is the perfect location to host such an outdoor event with the many opportunities to see boats from the city’s docks and on Front Street, he said.
For now, Dan and Katie want people to know they’re open, by appointment, or just by walking into their showroom – and that their boats are on display.
For more information, visit hamlinsmarina.com or contact Kim Relick at [email protected] 930-3780.