“Launch ramp closed,” reads a sign next to the water at the Gunpowder Cove marina in Joppa. At the end of this season, that launch ramp will be joined by the rest of the marina.
Customers received a letter earlier this week announcing that the marina would be closing Nov. 1, at which point all boats on the property need to be removed and taken elsewhere for winter storage.
The news came as a shock to many longtime customers of the facility, which provides storage, docking and maintenance, as well as entry into the Chesapeake Bay in waters and islands not heavily trafficked by tourists.
The Gunpowder Cove marina had been family-owned for years until a little under a decade ago, when it was bought by MarineMax, a national boat-service company with locations in 16 states. But customers can only speculate as to the reason for the closing, and MarineMax gave little indication as to the rationale or what will happen to the property after Nov. 1.
Michael Quigley, MarineMax’s business manager in the region, said the closing was because of financial reasons and cruisers — the kind of boat typically stored at that marina — are a dried-up market, but he declined further comment. TJ Rose, the general manager for MarineMax’s Maryland locations, also declined comment, and MarineMax’s national organization did not respond to multiple requests to speak with The Daily Record for this story.
As a whole, MarineMax’s stock, despite being near an all-time high, has declined more than 20 percent over the last month, though last week the company announced the opening of a new facility in Texas.
The general reaction among Gunpowder Cove customers when they heard the news was dismay and shock, said Gary Rettberg, who has been boating at the marina since 1993.
“It’s been a part of my life for a long time, so for them just to close leaves a big void at this point,” he said. “I think everybody is mad, upset — stunned for the most part.”
After receiving the letter on Monday, Rettberg immediately started looking for a new marina to use, but he said the alternatives weren’t ideal.
“There’s really nothing in the immediate area to fill that need. You have to go out of the way to get to another location,” he said. “It’s not like a convenience store where there’s another one just across the street.”
Customers will receive a 15-percent discount for winter storage at a Baltimore Marine Center location, according to the letter, but a number of Gunpowder Cove boaters said they wouldn’t consider moving their cruiser to Baltimore because it is so far away.
Rettberg said he also didn’t want to bring his business back to MarineMax after this season.
“I was never really that truly a big fan of MarineMax because it’s just a big corporation. [The marina] lost that personal touch when they bought it. I always felt there was a deterioration in the services that were offered. My days of dealing with them are pretty much done,” he said.
Starting last year, MarineMax discontinued the service department at its Joppa location, leaving just a mobile unit based out of Baltimore to provide service. Last month, the store announced it would stop selling boat parts, which now need to be bought out of Baltimore.
“It breaks my heart because years ago, it was a family-owned and operated business, and that family worked hard to have a beautiful business,” said Jim High, owner of the Baltimore Boating Center marina on Middle River. “When they sold it, a lot was lost…the large corporation doesn’t care about the local families as much as they would if they were a local business.”
High suggested that because the Gunpowder River doesn’t have a harbor or as many restaurants on the waterfront, it might have struggled to pose as an attractive destination for boaters who have to travel to Baltimore.
But for boaters already in the area who must now look elsewhere for winter storage, next summer and beyond, the hope is that, despite little information available from MarineMax, some good news will emerge about the Gunpowder Cove marina’s future.
“It’s a sad day in my mind, for them to just close it,” Rettberg said. “I’m hoping somehow, someway, somebody else buys it and they’re able to open as a new business, a new marina.”