Reprinted with Permission from The Dickenson Star
Article and Photos by Jenay Tate, Editor and Publisher
June 21, 2017
CLINTWOOD — In operation since 1964, the marina on Flannagan Lake turns another page in history as it welcomes the summer season under new ownership.
On Friday, almost all of the 99 boat slips at Flannagan Marina and Power Sports were full and the place was busy with boaters and kayakers. The marina now sports rentals of kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards, along with paddle boats, a Jon boat and a six-person pontoon, too.
Now you can enjoy good food from Roo’s Grill, where new owner Ashley Oquin insists on making her own hotdog chili and offers up specials on downhome favorites like pulled pork and catfish. Relax waterside at bright new umbrella tables, which Oquin got at a bargain price. She put her nose for economy shopping to work on restocking the shop. “That’s better than Walmart price right there,” she said, holding a package of fishing lures. Kid life jackets, same thing. Smart shopping, she says. They now sell hunting and fishing licenses, too.
Her daughter is behind the counter at the shop. The rest of the kids — six total in a blended family together for a dozen years — were mostly playing around the water but also ready at a moment’s notice to do whatever might be required. Clearing tables. Picking up trash. Everyone chips in. The business is a family affair, Ashley said.
She’s the owner, by design, but her partner in this venture and life is husband Jonathan. Their paths crossed when both were young, living in Bristol, separated from spouses, with children and in need of help. They were pals first, working opposite shifts and partnering up on daycare duty. She’s blessed, Oquin says. “They don’t make them like him anymore. Fifty years ago they made all kinds of ‘em, but not anymore.”
That’s going way back, Ashley says. She’s from Glade Spring and had no idea where Haysi was. She’s gone from saying she’d never live here to saying she’s never going to go. After some stormy weather, their lives now are anchored at Flannagan Marina.
They always had been outdoors people and enjoyed spending time on the water, Oquin says, weaving the story of how they got there.
Her hard-working husband was injured at work and then even more severely injured in an accident on a side-by-side. He almost didn’t survive the vehicle wreck, she said. So, this person who had been the bread winner, his wife relates, then confronted the mental pain of not being able to do that anymore. On top of that, he endures the physical pain of his own injuries.
Oquin had been a stay at home mom but both knew their lives were forever changing. She went back to school and had been working as a licensed practical nurse but said she wanted to do something different, something she and Jonathan could do together. They are young and ambitious, she said. They talked about the marina when it had been for sale once before. Oquin said she knew she could run the marina business. She managed a family of eight on one income, she said. Plus, she was raised being told there’s no such thing as can’t.
Ashley phoned about the marina but it was no longer for sale and they went on about their lives. They were taking some vacation at the beach last summer when Oquin got a Multiple Listing Service realty alert to her phone. The marina was back on the market.
They moved fast to find resources and Oquin’s Google search connected her with People, Inc., Jeremy Repass, financing options, programs and help from the Small Business Administration and Tim Blankenbeckler at Mountain Empire Community College. Repass was amazing, she said, and he and Blankenbeckler were “holding our hands and walking us through this process.”
She did her own research and work. She wrote her own business plan and embarked on convincing funders this was a viable business. They closed on the loan in October 2016. They opened for the season at the end of March.
Oquin was appreciative of their technical help, yes, but she also really valued the moral support Repass and Blankenbeckler provided. There is nothing easy about the process of trying to get a business started, she said, and there are plenty of times when you aren’t sure you’re going to make it.
She is full of confidence today, and big plans.
As she guides a visitor across the old dock, she remarks about the worn paint and plans for upgrades, replacing wood with metal, and potentially even building a whole new dock. At the far end of the marina, almost to the edge of the cove, she sweeps her arm to the left, defining a stretch of water where her business plans call for erecting a floating water park. Not this year, she said, but perhaps next.
She said she didn’t want to sink her new company into deeper debt, a philosophy she and her husband share and have employed through the years. Until she bought the business, they had no debt. They have scrimped and saved, she said. “We’ve put money up instead of indulging our children or ourselves with extras,” she said. “It’s always been our goal, to make it on a McDonald’s income if we had to.”