If Irish Boat Shop had been established with a mission statement, company president Michael Esposito believes that statement might well have focused on “messing around in boats.”
This year, Irish — which has locations in Harbor Springs and Charlevoix — is celebrating 50 years of serving the needs of boat enthusiasts.
“Service, repairs, storage and dockage is the foundation of the company,” Esposito noted, “with a little fun thrown in for good measure.”
In early October 1943, Herb and Edith Irish, along with their three children, Jane, Ann and David, sailed around Harbor Point and into Harbor Springs aboard their 32-foot sailboat, Loon. Herb Irish announced, “I guess we’ll stay here” — and stay they did.
“My youth was spent in and around the woods and waters of Harbor Springs, teaching sailing, fixing boats, and racing other people’s sailboats,” David Irish noted.
“After serving as a navigator in the Air Force, I had to decide what to do with my life. Playing with boats for a living seemed a good choice, and by an accident of time, place and circumstances, the opportunity existed,” said Irish.
In 1961, David opened Irish Boat Shop in Harbor Springs. After purchasing the initial waterfront land, construction commenced on buildings and minimal facilities.
“The financing came from resort people I knew through sailing and some money I borrowed from family. We got possession of the land in April of 1961 and worked to make it a business,” noted Irish.
Although the work and office spaces were without heat and the boat hoist was pushed by hand, the company was doing well by its second year. By 1965, there was a new 20-ton boat hoist along with a smaller 8-ton hoist, heated office and shop space, fixed breakwater, docks and storage buildings in place.
In 1971, Irish purchased the defunct Stover Creek Marina in Charlevoix. This marina was constructed as a modern boatyard and marina, focusing on larger boats.
“We did the same things as in Harbor Springs, just with somewhat bigger boats,” Irish said.
In 1977, Irish Boat Shop purchased the old oil depot on Ferry Avenue in Charlevoix and undertook the construction of a third marina. That same year in Harbor Springs, the business opened a sail loft for the construction and repair of sailboat sails and canvas work.
During the next few years, Irish Boat Shop continued to grow in both Harbor Springs and Charlevoix.
Another major renovation took place in 1993, when the original waterfront buildings in Harbor Springs had become obsolete and were removed and replaced with modern shops and work areas, customer service and employee facilities and heated boat storage.
On Jan. 1, 2007 David Irish retired as president of the company and the executive and operational responsibilities were turned over to Michael Esposito. David Irish remains involved as chairman of the board and treasurer of the company.
“I am a lucky guy; I really like what I do,” Irish said. “I like people who hang around boats, I like people who enjoy boats and I like people who work on boats. Helping people have fun with boats is our business.”
Over the years, many things have changed at Irish Boat Shop. The company now operates with three waterfront marinas with approximately 300 slips and more than 200,000 square feet of inside storage.
Irish Boat Shop represents several popular boat and marine engine lines including Sea Ray Boats, Boston Whaler, Zodiac, Laser Performance and many others. The business has achieved some of the highest levels of certification and recognition in the industry, including Brunswick Master Dealer, Mercury Marine Platinum Dealer and Authorized Hinckley Service Center for the Great Lakes Region. Irish Boat Shop also is an Authorized Legacy Service Center.
Both Harbor Springs and Charlevoix sites are Certified Clean Marinas, a program that certifies marinas and boatyards on their performance in meeting a wide variety of standards with respect to environmental stewardship and clean operations.
“We are proud of the fact that within our company we have three Certified Marina Managers — there are less than 300 worldwide — and two state of Michigan-certified stormwater inspectors,” said Esposito
The company encourages its employees to participate in their communities, and it supports local charities through contribution of money, time and equipment. In addition to being active locally, to environmental interests and to the land trust movement, Irish has served the sport of sailing in a variety of roles — locally, nationally and internationally — for more than 25 years.
“I could not have predicted, nor even imagined in 1961 where the company would be today,” Irish said. “But where we are today is the consequence of good people, employees, customers and community; and perhaps a bit of good luck.”