DECATUR – “Ask not what your country can do for you,” John F. Kennedy famously said, appealing to the better angels of his countrymen.
Standing in Nelson Park on a sweltering June day, David and Shirley Hardin have a similar philosophy.
“We’re all sittin’ back, waiting on, ‘Oh, what can the city do for us? What can the park district do for us? What can the county do for us? What can the state do for us?’” David Hardin said. “What can you do for them? We’ve got a city that the factories have left, some of the amenities, amusement parks have left. What can we do as citizens?”
The Hardins own Tandemonium Bike Rentals and Macon Waves Pedal Boat Rentals, both businesses they conceived and brought to the Decatur Park District for approval. They offer the rentals at comparatively low prices, in part, because they wanted to create the same recreational opportunities they had as children growing up in Decatur.
Both work full-time jobs at the Macon County Courts Facility, David as a security officer and Shirley as a deputy clerk in the Macon County Circuit Clerk’s Office. David Hardin also has a second job, working night security about 30 to 35 hours a week.
Yet still, they find time for both side businesses. They typically offer the bike rentals from 5:30 p.m. to dusk in Fairview Park on weekdays. Boat rentals are available from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in Nelson Park.
Both businesses have Facebook pages that are updated with schedule changes, and the Hardins try to return all phone and online messages.
“It beats just sitting around the house doing nothing. We’re doing something for the community and that makes me feel good, especially when they enjoy it,” he said.
The Hardins opened the bike rental business in Fairview Park in 2012. Their fleet now includes nine tandem bikes, four regular bikes, one adult tricycle and three quadricycles. The most popular quad, which holds up to five people, has been temporarily down for repairs.
David Hardin said he tried suggesting the idea for pedal boat rentals to others. No one followed through, however, and one day he came home with a pedal boat he had bought at Farm and Fleet.
The two worked up a business plan to present to the park district and acquired $2 million in liability insurance. Now, they're off and floating, so far to rave reviews. One woman traveled from Champaign after seeing a news report about the offering.
Park district Executive Director Bill Clevenger praised the entrepreneurial spirit of the Hardins.
“They are so positive. They are a good example of that customer-driven focus,” he said. “They found a niche and I think they think about that customer and creating that experience every day.”
The park district keeps 5 percent of the gross revenue from both businesses. The partnership allows for amenities that the district otherwise might not be able to provide, Clevenger said.
It also allows people who aren't boat owners to enjoy the lakefront, which has been a park district focus for years.
“We had talked about continuing to enhance the lakefront experience, and that fit right in,” he said.
The Hardins have five pedal boats and, because of their popularity, are currently limiting rides to an hour and a half. That's plenty of time to pedal far along the shoreline, either with the canopy up or down.
Although the boats technically hold up to five people, any group with more than two adults will likely have to split up into mulitple boats. Everyone who is riding must wear a life jacket.
Monica Cummings and her 19-year-old son, Shaughn, were among the happy customers on a recent Saturday.
Cummings said they were excited to try the boats and, eventually, the bike rentals in Fairview Park.
“I'm like, finally, something that I feel like is family-oriented or for couples to bring people to Decatur to do something fun and exciting,” she said.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!