along the tenn-tom — It was Memorial Day 1990 and Gerald Conner was struggling to make it up the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway before nightfall in time to meet his daughter for her birthday celebration in Blue Springs.
Despite the best efforts of Gerald and wife Ginger, the clock was ticking and they had gotten only as far as Fulton in their 51-foot Bluewater “Georgia Girl.” It was nearing 5 p.m., the time when their daughter and her husband would be leaving Memphis for the little community and lock in Tishomingo County. Told of this little marina in Fulton, the Conners decided to pull in for the night. On a borrowed land line, Ginger reached her daughter just as she was walking out the door to tell her their new location. The drive from Memphis to Fulton would become a regular one.
Approaching the small marina situated at the bottom of rolling pasture land, the Conners — retired Florence, Ala., business owners then living in Florida — knew almost immediately they had made the right decision to stop.
“Looking at it from the water I said I believe we’ve found a new home,” Gerald said he thought to himself. “Just looking at it there was something about it.”
Two days later, the Conners discovered the marina might be for sale. Within 10 days, a deal had been sealed and Midway Marina (midway between the Mississippi River and Mobile Bay) was theirs.
Just five years old, Midway was a quiet and not-too-successful marina when the Conners arrived.
Of the 42 available slips only 12 were leased to boat owners. The amenities at the marina were slight and the facilities, which included a small office and boating supply store, were insufficient.
The Conners, with nearly 30 years of boating experience and 25 years operating convenience stores in Alabama’s tri-cities area, believed they could have a good go at making Midway one of the best of the 10 marinas on the Tenn-Tom. Owning and operating 11 convenience stores will give you that confidence, Gerald said.
“We aren’t strangers to building businesses,” he said. “When you open a convenience store you have to work yourself to build a business.”
The way they would do that, Ginger said, was by offering superb service that only boaters could understand and appreciate. Strangers in a strange land need a little coddling, she said, and too often they found that missing during their boating travels.
“We’ve just had that happen to us so many times we don’t want that to happen to other people,” she said.
That desire to stay focused solely on boaters and their needs has sometimes come at a price and made the Conners put other possible money-making ventures on hold. A restaurant on the property is leased, as is a sales and service office. There have been talks about the need for a nice lodging facility but the Conners say they would participate only in providing the land.
A successful driving range built by Gerald was closed because it was taking too much of his time away from the marina even though he recouped his $30,000 in expenses within two months, he said.
“That’s the only business I’ve ever closed because of too much business,” he said.
All together, the Conners have sunk nearly $1 million into the marina building a 40-foot seawall, adding 60 slips and doubling the size of the office and supply store.
Apparently their philosophy is paying off. The year they took over Midway saw less than 100 boaters pass through; in 1997 nearly 700 from all over the country stopped. Seventeen families — 30 people — now live at Midway year-round.
Darleen Goodman and husband Larry from Southaven, Mich., are two of them.
“What they don’t tell you is that they have a big thing out there (pointing to the water) and it lets you come in but you can’t get back out,” Goodman said.