Jim Dreeben has been saying he’s going to retire for “probably 20 years,” but every summer, he returns to his Riverside business, Peconic Paddler, to rent kayaks and canoes.
This year, though, he means it. Well, mostly.
Mr. Dreeben sold the business and the property March 24 to a group led by Tom Fredette, a New York City firefighter from East Moriches. He declined to reveal the purchase price.
“I’m sort of sad about it because I’ve been here for 51 years, but I’m relieved, too,” Mr. Dreeben said. “It’s time to move on. I like to travel.”
While Mr. Fredette is considering a number of long-range plans for the property, such as a café or restaurant, he still plans to keep the paddling business intact.
He also hopes to also keep Mr. Dreeben around to show him the ropes — for at least this summer.
“We’re going to continue what he’s been doing for the summer and then create something new … it’s all still in the planning stages,” Mr. Fredette said Saturday during a “Meet the New Owners” event with Mr. Dreeben at the Peconic Avenue store.
“For now, we just want to continue doing what Jim’s been doing all these years. We want to keep the legacy of Jim Dreeben going. It’s amazing how well he understands this business.”
Mr. Fredette, 54, is a 33-year member of the FDNY. He grew up around water and is a graduate of Westhampton Beach High School.
“I’ve always been outdoors, surfing, things like that,” he said. “I’m getting toward the end of my career as a firefighter, and it would be a nice change of pace to try something different. Something along the lines of recreational activity. I’ve always been on the water. I was a clammer as a kid. I love that environment.”
Mr. Fredette has water training from his job, and is part of a rescue dive team in the FDNY.
He said of the Peconic Paddler: “I drove past it so many times and it just always intrigued me.”
While Mr. Dreeben, 76, has been in business on Peconic Avenue for 51 years, it’s hasn’t always been with a canoe and kayak enterprise.
From 1966 to 1976, he owned the gas station where Valero is now located, formerly called Sinclair. Starting in 1976, he ran a gas station from the current Peconic Paddler site.
It was Alton Luce, who ran a hardware store in the shopping center across from Riverhead Town Hall, who first introduced Mr. Dreeben to the canoe business.
“I had always paddled, and Alton Luce, who sold canoes at his hardware store, convinced me that I should start renting canoes on the Peconic River,” Mr. Dreeben recalled. “He gave me a good deal on some canoes, so I bought them and started renting them. I never planned on going into water sports. It just took off.”
He began renting canoes in 1980 and kayaks around 1984. He now rents stand-up paddleboards as well.
“The business has always been good,” he said. “It’s just time to step down. I’ll stay with Tom and teach him the business and maybe in the summer I’ll work for him. I’ll become his employee. I won’t have to write checks or buy insurance or pay taxes.”
Mr. Dreeben said he’d like to lead kayak tours over the summer, something he was too busy to do as owner of the business, and do fitness training on the water.
He said he fielded a number of offers for the property, including some seeking to use it for a restaurant or office.
Most of the offers relied on additional sewerage capacity coming to the area in order to allow additional development.
That’s something Southampton and Riverhead towns have been discussing in recent years. Southampton is asking Riverhead to extend its sewer district into parts of Riverside to facilitate development in there.
Under current regulations, a 20- to 30-seat restaurant could be established at the site, along with the paddling business, Mr. Fredette said, adding that he may add surfing equipment, too. If additional sewerage capacity became available in the future to allow additional development, they can amend their plans then, he said.
Mr. Fredette said his sons Robert and Jason, 30 and 32, who are both in the FDNY themselves, plan to help run the business.
His third son, Lee, 34, was paralyzed in a dirt bike accident in 2002, and has since become involved in wheelchair sports. He was a member of the U.S. Wheelchair Rugby team that competed in last year’s Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Mr. Fredette said he’s considering running a handicapped program at Peconic Paddler.
His son’s injury and subsequent involvement in handicapped sports “exposes us to this whole population I never knew existed,” Mr. Fredette said.
In the meantime, he’s looking forward to being on the water.
“I love being on the water,” he said. “It’s a little spiritual when you get out there.”
Caption: Jason Fredette, Thomas Fredette, Jim Dreeben and Rob Fredette. The Fredette family recently purchased Peconic Paddler in Riverhead from Mr. Dreeben. (Credit: Vera Chinese)