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C&C Boat Works to mark 58 years in business

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C&C Boat Works was started in 1952 by two brothers in law, Al Citro and Larry Cooper. The name still bears their initials, though a different family now owns the business. It was 1956 when Orval and Elizabeth Nelson bought the business, and it’s been family owned ever since.

Orval and Elizabeth were living in Des Moines, Iowa, where Orval was an engineer. When he was asked to move overseas, the two decided it was time to go into business for themselves. They explored the Crosslake area and decided to buy C&C Boat Works.

At that time, the business’ most visible building from County Road 66 in Crosslake was not yet built. The business was based out of what was the Nelsons’ house, with a showroom up front, a garage for boat repairs and maintenance, storage in the lower level and, of course, living space for the family.

Brad Nelson, now the second-generation owner of the store and longtime Crosslake resident, has been working at C&C ever since he was able.

“It’s without question the longest-standing individually owned business in Crosslake,” Brad said. In August the business will be 58 years old.

Brad said that when his father took over the business, the primary product was wood boats and their maintenance. The business was heavy into woodwork and varnish.

The Nelsons have heard that Citro and Cooper built lapstrake wooden boats, hence the name “boat works,” but have never seen a C&C boat — they don’t know what to look for. When the Nelsons took over, the business shifted to wooden boat sales and service.

That all changed, though, when the fiberglass and aluminum boats revolutionized the industry in the 1950s and 1960s.

“The era of the fiberglass boat made it more affordable and accessible,” Brad said.

Fiberglass and aluminum boats are smaller, easy to trailer and less expensive to own. Fuel and accessories, like water skis, became big sellers.

Today the business carries primarily Cobalt luxury runabouts, MasterCraft wakeboarding and ski boats and Harris pontoons, along with a few personal watercraft.

Over the years the business has faced challenges as well as growth. In the 1960s, a storage building caved in because of massive amounts of snowfall. At other times in the business’ history recessions, high interest rates and fuel embargoes have tested its longevity, but it’s always made it through.

The business grew in 1971 when a new 96- by 100-foot building was built. Once the building was complete, the Nelsons threw a party before anything was moved in, using the wide open space for a band and more than 200 guests. They called the party a “mortgage celebration.”

Now the main building, it remains packed with boats and accessories. Brad is proud to be a part of the business.

“They couldn’t get me out of here,” he said.

From the time he was a child he was helping out at the store, fueling boats and learning repairs. He wasn’t in school sports; instead he was at the store after school to clean and deliver boats. He left Crosslake to go to college, but came back to be a part of the business.

“I was in love with this business from the time I was a little boy,” he said. “I’m the only 52-year-old with 40 years in the business.”

Nelson’s not sure if there’s a secret to the success of the business, but he does stress the importance of customer service.

“You get a core group of customers and take good care of them,” he said, adding the business does its best to stay on top of quality products in the right era.

Today the business has several employees, all of whom have been employed for many years. The shop foreman has been with the business for 40 years, and the average employee tenure is more than 20 years.

“It’s a fun product to sell, a fun industry to be in,” Brad said.

His customers, who have included NFL and NHL players and celebrities, are on vacation with their families and generally in good moods.

“We treat our employees well, our customers well, and offer a great product at a fair value,” Brad said.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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