For Ridgway native Louis Dussia, the opportunity to purchase a Warren-based boat dealership has paid off in dividends over time.
In 1984, Louis bought Dell's Marine in Warren, changed the name to Dreamboat Marine, and then watched the business evolve for over 25 years.
"From 1984 until 1991, we were solely a boat sales and service dealer, selling many name-brand boats like Baja, Chaparral, Hydrostream, Eliminator, Mariah, Grumman and others, along with Mercury and Evinrude outboard motors," Louis said. "During that time, additional buildings were erected for a large boat service area and indoor winter storage for boats.
"Our customer base for boat service continued to expand with customers from at least a 120-mile radius."
The business's boat and motor service department is known for its excellence in diagnostics and repair of outboards, stern drives and general boat maintenance.
"My son, Mark Dussia, our service department manager, started working at Dreamboat in 1986," Louis said. "Mark is also a Ridgway native, being born there in 1967.
"Our technicians are factory-trained and receive continuous schooling every year to keep up-to-date with all of the new drives and engines."
In the early 1990s, the business started to diversify by adding new product lines to better serve the area.
"We opened a Radio Control Race Track facility and a hobby shop for cars, parts and accessories," Louis said. "After more than 20 years, the Radio Control racing facility is still open, with racing every week from October until March.
"The racing facility, Riverside Raceway, is the oldest continuously operating R/C race track for hundreds of miles."
The Hobby Shop part of the business continued to expand, adding many additional items including Lionel Trains, HO electric trains, Radio Control planes and a huge plastic model shop with thousands of plastic models.
"Slot cars, hobby tools, puzzles, kites and many other items fill our store with fun," Louis said. "Around the year 2000, we became a dealer for American Steel Buildings, selling carports, garages, storage buildings, small shops and helicopter hangars.
"We continue to sell dozens of these buildings every year for all kinds of usages."
As Louis contemplated his business, he came to realize that the customer base was mostly male, as most of the products were geared toward men.
"I decided to find a product that would attract women," Louis said. "I started a small yarn shop to test the waters and the yarn business just exploded.
"Today, we have the largest yarn shop in the entire area, with women traveling great distances for all of their knitting and crocheting needs. Thousands of skeins of yarn to choose from keep them coming back."
And as the business continued to grow in many directions, it became obvious to Louis that a name change was in order, so to maintain the name recognition and also show diversity, he changed the name to "The Shops at Dreamboat in Warren."
In 2009, Louis was approached by the Cornplanter Council of the Boy Scouts of America to become the area distributor for all of the Boy Scout uniforms and equipment.
"In just two years, we have expanded that department greatly and now are serving the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts from a wide area, including Warren County, Bradford, Kane, Corry, Marienville, Jamestown, N.Y. and Titusville," Louis said.
He was then approached a year later by the owner of Allegheny Hardwood Pellets to become their factory-direct retail outlet.
"We offer the entire area the best pellets on the market at the best price and we stock the pellets all year long so that our customers can purchase their pellets throughout the summer and prepare for winter," Louis said. "Our pellet customers really appreciate being able to stock up on their heating fuel all year long and therefore spreading out their heating costs."
Selling various name-brand kayaks over the years, including Old Town, Clearwater and Kiwi, Louis decided that this was the year to expand into a larger and higher-quality variety of kayaks.
"After much research and comparisons, I chose to become a dealer for Confluence Water Sports, the parent company of Perception, Wilderness Systems and Dagger kayaks, along with Mad River canoes," Louis said. "I felt that my kayaking customers would appreciate a step up in quality and performance in their kayaks, and I was right. Sales of our new lines shows that people want exceptionally good quality while still paying a reasonable price, and these lines give them everything they could ask for.
"I picked this company, not only for their fantastic and extensive product lines, but also for their excellent marketing through their website and online instructional videos through YouTube."
As his business has certainly evolved over time, Louis said he has enjoyed his career path.
"I only sell products that I am proud to stock and that I would use myself," Louis said. "I take great satisfaction when a new customer comes into my store and is genuinely thrilled at the selections that we stock, whether it is boat parts, yarn, plastic models kayaks or puzzles.
"I enjoy the retail business and attempt to make every customer's visit a wonderfully memorable experience."
Born in June of 1949 to John W. Dussia and Mary Margaret (Sis) Dussia, Louis was a graduate of Elk Christian High School and credits the institution for his receiving the "best education possible."
"The nuns, priests, and lay teachers really had an interest in teaching what you needed to know, not what you needed to pass some test," Louis said. "Ridgway is a unique community in that almost everyone participates in all of the activities.
"The St. Leo's church bazaars, the Ridgway Firemen carnivals and all of the other town activities gave me the desire to try to please everyone that I came in contact with."
After graduation, Louis worked at Area Building Center in Ridgway, which was in the old Hyde Murphy building, for a couple years as store manager.
"I then worked a couple of years at Hauck Chrysler Plymouth in Ridgway as parts manager," Louis said. "In 1971, I joined the Pennsylvania State Police and worked in Warren as a trooper for 13 years, taking my early retirement in 1984.
"At that time, I purchased Dell's Marine in Warren, the local boat dealership, changing the name to Dreamboat Marine."
After retiring from the state police force, Louis became more and more into boating and fell into the purchase of the marine dealership.
"But when it came to expanding to other venues, I went back to my childhood in Ridgway," Louis said. "I remembered the arts and craft activities at the playground above Lincoln Street, making woven baskets and other crafts.
"After starting to earn money with my morning Bradford Era and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette route, one of my favorite stores to shop at was Mr. Rose's Hobby shop [along] Allenhurst.
"It was in a small garage across from St. Leo's and crammed full of hobby dreams. When it came time to expand into other venues, these two places were still etched in my mind."
Although Louis now knows thousands of people in the Warren and surrounding areas, he misses the closeness of the people in Ridgway.
"A number of my old customers from Area Building Center and Hauck's are now my customers here," Louis said. "One of my newspaper route customers, Clyde Jack, a Ridgway resident, has been a customer of mine for years.
"That is a friendship that began when I was about 11 years old. How many people remember their paperboy from 50 years ago? Clyde does."
A number of people from Ridgway inspired Louis, but he said the most influential was the person who first taught him retail at Area Building Center: Ray Tongren.
"[Ray] was the manager when I started there and the man whose place I took when he left because of illness," Louis said. "Here was a man at least 50 years older than I when I started there part-time when I was 16 years old.
"He treated me as an adult, gave me great responsibilities and had faith in me. He taught me everything he knew about running a retail store, lumber and hardware. He was a great teacher and a great friend."
Back in Ridgway, Lou's mother currently resides at Pinecrest Manor in St. Marys. Louis also has five brothers still living in Ridgway-- Steve, John, Jerome, Pete and Ralph. He also has two aunts, Adeline Rees and Zita Verne, both living at Ridgmont, and numerous cousins in the Ridgway area.