My second feature story in a continuing search for Loveland’s kindest, sweetest people and what they’re made of. What is our DNA match?
Loveland, Ohio – The City of Loveland is known for many things such as its beautiful scenery, its historic buildings, and the famous Loveland Bike Trail, but what a lot of people don’t know is Loveland has become one of the top destination spots in Ohio for families. And the Bersani family is dedicated to that family-friendly atmosphere. What could be better than grabbing an ice cream cone from Loveland Sweets after a sunny afternoon canoeing on the Little Miami River? Well, that’s something Loveland Canoe and Kayak Owners Mark and Robyn Bersani couldn’t agree more with!
Mark and Robyn live right above their canoe and kayak shop on Karl Brown Way in Historic Downtown Loveland with their 5 dogs and their daughter Elena and quite frankly couldn’t be happier with where the journey to owning Loveland Canoe and Kayak has taken them.
“We were not canoeists or kayakers we were outdoors people. We loved being outdoors and doing physical things,” Bersani said, “We were training for the Chicago Marathon in 2003 and we were running on the Loveland Bike Trail and Robyn said ‘Hey the Canoe business is for sale we should buy it! Robyn said ‘I’m off in the summer I don’t like to sit still and we will hire some kids and we will do it!’ We went into the process of negotiation. Initially, we were not going to get it because someone else had a better offer than things fell through and they came back to us and we put together an offer and essentially ‘We bought a Zoo,” Bersani explained. The business was formally owned by Bruce Crutchfield who at one time had a caged chimpanzee at the business named Sam who canoeists and locals fed a regular diet of beer and cigarettes.
The Bersanis didn’t always live in Loveland, in fact, they lived in Buffalo where their parents went to school together, which led them to eventually meet each other in high school.
“It took me 7 years to get a date,” Bersani joked, “But it was well worth the wait! We moved to Dallas a year after we got married. I started in Telecom and Robyn started teaching then I got transferred to New Orleans. We moved back up here to Cincinnati not knowing much about it except that we both had driven through it and thought it was beautiful coming from the Kentucky side,” Mark Bersani said, “Robyn started teaching in the Kings district and at that point, I had been in sales for 25 years in Telecommunications.”
After finally closing on the canoe and kayak property right before Memorial Day in 2004, the Bersanis knew they had some challenges ahead of them, but were committed to making Loveland Canoe and Kayak a family affair.
It was a challenge early on because Robyn and I had a vision for the business that was different from what others had seen it as before we took over,” Mark Bersani explained, “We wanted it to be a place where families could come and enjoy nature. At the time people knew the place as a sort of ‘Cabrewing’ venue. It was frustrating at times as we were trying to change the culture and dynamics. It wasn’t always easy but we were committed.”
The Bersani’s daughter Elena admitted at a young age of just 11 years old some of the people that came through Loveland Canoe and Kayak in the beginning quite frankly scared her.
“It took 2 or 3 years of education, policy enforcement and talking with the local authorities to see what we could do to achieve our vision of that family-friendly environment,” Mark Bersani said, “People told me if you do away with alcohol your business is going to be gone. I was told if you make the decision to go alcohol free and you stick with it you’re going to have a couple of years that are going to be really difficult and then it’s going to get better because people are going to find out that they can bring their families, sports teams and scout troops because of what the business stands for. People from Loveland started pulling me aside after they saw what we were doing and would tell me thank you for doing this because they used to have to go an hour up the river to do this with their families because they did not want to be around the alcohol and what it brought along with it,” he explained.
Robyn Bersani was the first to experience what a difference the family-friendly atmosphere they created with Loveland Canoe and Kayak made for many locals and out-of-towners.
“Five of the original kids we hired stayed with us for 9 summers because of the atmosphere we created. My principal at Kings called me in the office and I thought she was going to tell me I can’t be a teacher and run the canoe and kayak business and she called me in and said ‘My son needs a job!,” Robyn Bersani said, “It’s the little things like the comments from people saying, ‘Thank you so much this was the best day my son and I have ever had.’ When people get out there on the river they realize how good it makes them feel. Our vision always was to get families out together in nature,” she said.
Robyn Bersani, who has now been a 3rd grade teacher for 28 years at Kings, knows a little something about inspiring our younger generation to not only reach their goals but to not be afraid to try something new even if they don’t succeed at it the first time.
“I always wanted to be a teacher from a young age, but my parents pushed me to do something different, so I got a bachelor’s degree in psychology,” Robyn Bersani explained, “But then I thought to myself what better way to serve the world than to educate children. I want to prove things to the world like there are more important things than how an 8-year-old scores on a standardized test!”
Of course, Robyn Bersani isn’t the only one in the Bersani family making an impact on the Loveland community; both Mark and Elena Bersani do their fair share of helping and encouraging others. Mark is on the board of the Adventure Crew, which is a non-profit where the objective is to get urban kids in outdoor activities.
“We get about 125 kids out into nature and get them to experience things they would never get to experience otherwise,” Mark Bersani said, “This year they have skiing on the curriculum, they ,of course, will have biking on the Loveland Bike Trail and kayaking in the Spring and the Fall. This is all funded through donations and grants.”
Mark also takes part in what they call a “River Clean-up,” where they spend the day taking trash out of the State and National Scenic Little Miami River.
“We are big on doing what we can to stop the trash that is thrown into the river. With the River Clean-up, I have found a hot tub, a boat and one time I pulled out 65 tires!”, Marl Bersani said, “People don’t realize that 90 percent of trash and plastic in the oceans comes from rivers and streams. We used to get our dumpster emptied twice a week now it’s once every 4 to 5 weeks, so we have definitely made an improvement.”
Elena Bersani is not only an incredible hard-worker, an outstanding runner and Loveland’s very own “Sweetheart,” according to her parents, but she also has a soft spot for the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department.
“Elena has a place in her heart for firemen so she will make cookies and brownies for them all the time,” Robyn Bersani said, “I think she recognizes how much they have done for our family and our business and of course all they do for the Loveland community. The Fire Department has really looked out for us.”
Elena ran cross country for Kings and made it to State in 2010. She also attended the Art Institute where she focused on her love for baking, which led her to win “Best in Show” for her cannoli’s.
“Both of our girls have worked in the business for a number of years. They have unbelievable work ethics that we tried to instill through our example,” Robyn Bersani said, “It has always been important to us to be good role models and of course get involved in the community. We do a lot of things to somehow give back to the community. We try to donate to the community and local non-profits as much as we can so they can further their causes.”
The Bersani family have also been a part of some very successful fundraisers, such as Paddlefest, where 2,000 people paddle along the Ohio River, in which proceeds go towards the Adventure Crew, and one of Loveland’s most famous events the Frogman 5k. Last year in October the Bersani’s took part in a Film Festival that was held in Loveland’s very own Nisbet Park, where proceeds went towards the Little Miami Conservatory.
“It’s the big picture. It’s about being involved in the community as a business owner and resident. We want to connect with people and share resources. Everyone in this community really watches out for each other,” Robyn Bersani said, “We love telling the story of Loveland!”
The Bersanis are looking forward to the up and coming canoe and kayaking season and hope to see families from all over Ohio come and experience the beauty of Loveland and the Little Miami River. If you would like to learn more about the Loveland Canoe and Kayak you can visit their Facebook page, their website at lovelandcanoe.com or check out their location at 174 Karl Brown Way.
Read more about the Bersani family adventures…
Loveland, Ohio (Nov 9, 2015) – Mark Bersani and his wife Robyn own Loveland Canoe and Kayak on the bank of the State and National Scenic, Little Miami River in downtown. This Summer the weather was not kind to their business. Too much rain and too often, keeping river levels unsafe for canoers and kayakers. Business was dismal.
Mark’s staff made a dare. If they could muster enough customers to match last season, Mark would get tattooed, a tattoo like many of his young staff had already gotten.
This LOVELAND MAGAZINE TV VIDEO is the rest of that story….