Harbor Tours sails into Port Orchard

"When the turnstile doesn’t turn, it’s time to move the turnstile.That the business opinion of Bremerton entrepreneur Rick Leenstra Jr., who is moving his Kitsap Harbor Tours and Ship’s Store operation to Port Orchard.Leenstra said parking problems have drastically cut into his seven-year business along the Bremerton Boardwalk waterfront. He closed Bremerton operations Dec. 31 and planned to reopen in Port Orchard early this month.“We lost money for the last two years,” Leenstra said. He would not be exact, but he said the figure was in excess of $150,000.“That’s substantial,” he said.Leenstra said in his seven years on the boardwalk, he was able to break even for several years. But once the USS Missouri departed Bremerton for Hawaii, tourists numbers decreased. “I’m not kidding anybody. When the Mo left, it hurt our numbers,” he said.But the dagger in his side, he claims, occurred when parking hassles increased.“The parking has disappeared in the last two years,” Leenstra said. He said commuters to Seattle are “getting adept at using the parking spots. They dominate the parking.”That cut into his business, which is 80 percent individual customers and only 20 percent linked to tour groups.“We need to be able to park our customers better and more frequently,” he said.Leenstra said he told Bremerton city officials “something had to be solved or we would be forced to leave.”And leave he will.Leenstra will headquarter his three tour boats and the upscale Ship’s Store gift shop at a new location off Bay Street in Port Orchard. The building is the former state liquor store, currently owned by Joe Mentor and under renovation. A seafood restaurant will be among the tenants.Leenstra said he is negotiating for moorage space for his boats with Hilton Smith, owner of Horluck Transportation, and the Port of Bremerton. Leenstra’s three boats--the Admira Pete, Admiral Jack and General Chesty--can seat from 46 to 82 people. Leenstra was attracted to Port Orchard because its downtown business district offers up to four hours free parking.Leenstra said he will continue his summer tours to Tillicum Village on Blake Island. He will also continue his Kitsap Harbor Tours along Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, but could cut back to the peak months of June, July and August.Leenstra has not ruled out a return to Bremerton.“If downtown redevelops, it’s possible Harbor Tours may return at a later date,” Leenstra said. “If I don’t (feel positive) about the other end, I’ll be in no hurry to come back.”Leenstra said disruption caused by the Bremerton ferry terminal construction may also have cut into his parking problems.“I’m a niche business, so I have got to have a place for people to park,” he said.Meanwhile, Leenstra remembers the heydays of the 1990s when up to 30,000 per summer were taking his harbor tours.Leenstra said the tour business can be viable in a community so linked with its rich Navy history.“People do come to see the ships, and you have to go out on the water to see them,” Leenstra said."

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