Jim Glynn and his son, Chris Glynn, discuss the history of the Maid of the Mist, the recent growth in tourism and how the family came to own the company.
JG: My name is James Glynn and this is my 68th year with Maid of the Mist.
The Maid of the Mist actually started in 1846. Then it went (hard to believe) out of business in 1861 due to lack of business. It started up again – I think it was 1885. The family stayed with it until 1971 and that is who I bought from – Le Blond was the name.
CG: So there’s really two families since 1885 when the company started again. It went bankrupt in the Civil War years and started up again in 1885 and the company that Dad owns was incorporated in New York State on February 22nd, 1892. So, one of the oldest companies in New York, for sure.
And haven’t missed a year since 1885.
Growth in tourism
CG: In 2003 we carried 500,000 passengers and last year we carried 1.6 million. So it’s been a slow but steady march. Since 2012 we’ve increased by, I think, almost 300,000 passengers, so it’s been significant growth in the last few years.
There’s a general growth in tourism and Niagara Falls, New York, is doing well. And there’s been some development, there’s a lot of marketing dollars available and some successful promoting that’s been going on. Additional hotels, room nights. A lot of cooperation between government sectors led to that.
Some of it is thickening of the border where you have to have certain documentation to go to Canada. America is a vast nation and not everybody has the right documentation who wants to do that. For a while the Canadian dollar was very strong and that had an impact and made Canada much more expensive to the average consumer. At the moment that’s changed, as the price of petroleum has declined. Those are some factors.
JG: The customer base has changed.
CG: Much more international now.
JG: Much more international. A lot from the Far East. That’s as of late, the Indians coming in on package tours. But the Chinese – some days we get three or four busses down here, early in the morning. So it’s very good.
From bus boy to CEO
JG: When I was 15, I got a job at Louis’ restaurant on Falls’ Street. I was a bus boy and your waitress tipped you at the end of the day for the work you did. I got to know this one lady and we became good friends – I was her chief bus boy.
She used to take good care of me. She said to me one day: “You know, Jim, you shouldn’t be here, working in this kitchen. You ought to be down in the park with the wind and grass and sun. They hire people. I’ll tell you now, this guy comes in every day and sits at the end of the front long table; that’s Frank Le Blond. He owns Maid of the Mist – you should ask him if he’s got a job for you.”
So, I did – he said he didn’t, “but when I find an opening…”
The next year he comes in again and I’m back, I am now 16 years old. I then ask him about a job and he says “go down to Prospect Point, Tom Rickard is waiting for you”. That’s how I got hired.
My job was handing out brochures to tourists at Prospect Point. Suggesting that you would miss seeing Niagara Falls if you didn’t take this boat. I gave them a ticket for a buck. 90 cents went for the boat and 10 cents for the elevator.
The next year I was put downstairs selling tickets as I received a promotion; working in the ticket office I met some great people.
However, upstairs, I met one of the most notable – Cary Grant.
I remember walking over to the limousine (after being told that this particular person wanted to see me), I knocked on the window, the door opens up – Cary Grant says “Jim, how are you?”
The only tip I got for doing what I was supposed to be doing was from Jimmy Durante. He came up to the ticket window and purchased tickets for himself and his cast. He thanked me and gave me a five dollar bill
While attending Niagara University, I worked part-time for the Maid in a managerial position while Le Blond spent his winter in Florida.
Across from our ticket office there was an open area. I said to Le Blond: “Why don’t you sell souvenirs down here?” He said he wasn’t interested. I then asked “Well, would you mind if I tried?” He said “no”.
So he had an old ranch wagon that he let me take and I drove to Buffalo and I went in to meet the souvenir store guy, Max Spitalny. I drove the wagon back full of souvenirs. I loaded them into the showcases and by Sunday night we had two items left.
Following this success, I was authorized to open and manage four gift shops throughout the park and it became a multi-million dollar business.
I received a call from Oneida Silversmith with an offer to go over and oversee the construction, manage and lease their retail space in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I left the Maid to pursue this opportunity.
Le Blond used to come over and see me every day to discuss the Maid operation on the U.S. side. So, I finally said to him after a couple of weeks: “Look Frank, I don’t mind meeting with you, but you can’t come in here and keep me busy with you on the other guy’s buck, so we got to decide something.” So then he stated: “Well, come on back with me.” I said: “I don’t want to come back. I’m happy here.”
“What would it take to get you back?” He said. I replied: “Well, Frank, you’ve been talking on and off about selling, I want to make sure I protect my job. I’ll come back if you give me first right of refusal.” He did, and I returned to the Maid.
Several years later he walked into my office and informed me, he had sold the company.
I said, well you haven’t completed the sale yet, Frank. I pulled the paper out and I said – “Here.” He said: “What’s this?” I said: “I’m exercising a first right of refusal. I’m going to buy the company.”