The Business of Niagara Falls
Reported by Kasey Wehrum
A look at the companies that provide the boat tours, binoculars, and snacks at Niagara Falls.
Maid of the Mist has been taking honeymooners and tourists, including notable figures such as Teddy Roosevelt and Marilyn Monroe, to the base of Niagara Falls since 1846. Frank LeBlond, whose family was among the original investors in Maid of the Mist, sold the company to his business manager, James Glynn, in 1971. Glynn's son, Christopher, now runs the 200-employee business, which is based in Niagara Falls, New York, and has a fleet of four boats that depart every 15 minutes during daylight hours from April to October. Given that nearly 76,000 gallons of water flow over the American Falls per second, it's no surprise that a rain poncho comes with each $13.50 ticket.
Visitors can get a close-up view of the Falls without getting wet, thanks to coin-operated binoculars made by Hi-Spy Viewing Machines of Cobourg, Ontario. Fifty cents buys 100 seconds of viewing time at 10X magnification on the machines, which are made from rustproof brass and stainless steel. CEO Rod MacKenzie founded Hi-Spy in 1991. Each year, the three-employee company assembles hundreds of viewers for tourist spots around the world, including in the United States, Ireland, and Jordan.
Nearly eight million people visit Niagara Falls State Park each year. Many of them buy souvenirs and a bite to eat at the handful of gift shops and snack bars run by Delaware North Companies, which also oversees the Top of the Falls restaurant on Goat Island. Delaware North, based in Buffalo, was founded by brothers Marvin, Charles, and Louis Jacobs as a peanut and popcorn vendor in 1915. Now run by Louis's son, Jeremy, Delaware North became the official concessionaire of Niagara Falls in 1995. The company has other concessions at hundreds of locations nationwide, including Yellowstone National Park. It has roughly 50,000 employees and more than $2 billion in annual revenue.
After dark, 21 high-power xenon lights turn the waterfalls into rainbows of color. The lights are controlled using a system designed by Control System Innovators in Burlington, Ontario. The system has two flat-screen panels, one for controlling the American Falls and one for Canada's Horseshoe Falls, and can be set to orchestrate the lights automatically or manually. Engineers Ben Huynh and Peter Van den Heuvel started Control System Innovators in 2001. The 15-employee company specializes in automation and control systems for manufacturing plants.
Staff editor KASEY WEHRUM has written for Inc. magazine on subjects ranging from the businesses behind professional bull riding to gadget inventor and father of the infomercial, Ron Popeil. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Worth, Budget Travel, and on MSNBC.com. He lives in Brooklyn.