Fittest loser
Article updated: 8/9/2013 11:28 AM

Blue Hippo owner tried to get business off ground for 3 years

Justin Hodge, owner of Blue Hippo Pedal Boats, left, and employee Daniel Garcia, unload a four-seater as they set up for business Thursday at Festival Park in Elgin. Riders have a choice of a two-seater or a four-seater boat.

Justin Hodge, owner of Blue Hippo Pedal Boats, left, and employee Daniel Garcia, unload a four-seater as they set up for business Thursday at Festival Park in Elgin. Riders have a choice of a two-seater or a four-seater boat.

 

Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

Justin Hodge is owner of Blue Hippo Pedal Boats, which opened for business at Festival Park in Elgin in late July.

Justin Hodge is owner of Blue Hippo Pedal Boats, which opened for business at Festival Park in Elgin in late July.

 

Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

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Justin Hodge said the light bulb went off when he saw a pedal boat scene in a Tyler Perry movie about four years ago.

"The Fox River in Elgin was just lacking in activity. That's why I thought it would be perfect to bring it here," he said.

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In late July, Hodge, 30, launched Blue Hippo Pedal Boats at Festival Park in Elgin. His brother and cousin help him run the business, he said. All are Elgin residents.

Hodge tried to get the business off the ground for three years, securing approval from the city council each year.

The snag, he said, was Elgin's business insurance regulations, which required him to purchase a $5 million insurance policy. Hodge said he couldn't find a suitable insurer, but was able to do so when Elgin lowered his requirement to $4 million.

"Business -- it's been excellent, " he said. "It 's been getting a good reception. The residents like it, the community likes it."

Insurance costs are about $4,000 per year, while his five pedal boats cost a total of $7,200, he said.

Hodge said he also runs a marketing and promotions company from his home, plus Jah's concession stand at Festival Park, which serves hot dogs, corn on the cob and more. Jah is his nickname, deriving from his initials, he said.

"It's actually relaxing and peaceful. This is the most peaceful job I've ever had in my whole life," he said.

Parks and Recreation Director Randy Reopelle said Hodge initially wanted to have pedal boats off Walton Island on the Fox River in Elgin, but Festival Park is a much better place.

For one, the current is much stronger upstream by Walton Island, where the pedal boats also might have clashed with fishermen, he said. Plus, there are just more people at Festival Park throughout the summer.

"Obviously the river is a big part of our community and a big part of our identity," Reopelle said. "Anything we can do to use it as recreation is a good thing."

Blue Hippo Pedal Boats is open, weather permitting, May through October. It's open noon to 8 p.m. daily but that will change to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays after school starts Aug. 19.

Rates are $15 for 30 to 45 minutes, and $25 for 60 to 90 minutes. Boat renters must be 18 and older and tall enough to operate the pedals.

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