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Aug. 6, 2020
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Life in retirement keeps Mark and Chris Lusink on their toes

By Pamela A. Keene 
 
Don’t believe Mark Lusink when he claims he’s retired. The former owner of Boating Atlanta and long-time Lake Lanier advocate and businessman didn’t retire eight years ago. He just shifted his focus.
Growing up on Lanier, Lusink has seen the lake from its early days when waters weren’t crowded with boats on the weekends.
 
“I can remember as a teenager seeing Bona Allen’s boat on Lake Allatoona before Lake Lanier was built, as well as others who first discovered the joys of what was then a brand-new place for on-the-water recreation,” he said. “The lake was just filling in the mid-1950s and our family came up here from Buckhead on the weekends.”
 
Lusink’ s father was one of the founders of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 22 on Lanier in 1958. The family boated on Allatoona and Lanier and Lusink grew to love the water and boating.
 
When he graduated from high school, he headed to Georgia Tech to study engineering. As a Vietnam veteran, he was a Navy diver, navigator, and ship’s executive officer. He ended up building nuclear submarines for Litton Industries before coming back to Atlanta and opening Boating and Sailing Atlanta in the early 1970s.
 
The first store was in an old one-pump gas station next to Lazy Days Houseboats on Holiday Road. As the business grew he needed more space, and by 1980 Boating Atlanta expanded to Buford Highway, where it remained for 40 years.
 
In the meantime, Lusink and his wife, Chris, who met through the boating business – she was a rep with Honda and called on him as a business owner – lived for several years in North Hall. They moved north to Lula around 2006 and purchased acreage and built a home.
 
Ready to retire?
In 2012, he sold Boating Atlanta to Nathan Rhodes and retired from the boating business. “I knew Nathan’s family from living in Buckhead,” Lusink said. “My mother used to buy cakes and bakery items regularly from Rhodes’ Bakery and I always knew that Nathan came from good people.”
 
The couple turned their attention to the farm, raising chickens, growing vegetables, keeping bees, and living what he calls “a simpler life.” 
 
And although both Mark and Chris supposedly slowed down, they became even more involved in the community and their miniature dollhouse business, with Mark designing and selling dollhouse kits and Chris continuing to market miniature furniture and furnishings for dollhouses, which she began doing in the late 1990s. Mountain Miniatures sells one-inch and half-inch scale furniture and accessories to thousands of miniature dollhouse collectors around the world.
 
“My dollhouse building started in 2004 when Chris saw a picture in a magazine of a dollhouse that she really liked, so I figured out how to build it for her,” he said. “We built the house using a band saw and using all high-end finishes. It was totally electrified and even has a slate-shingled roof.”
 
For nearly 15 years, the couple’s basement has contained a complex CNC machine for cutting dollhouse parts, plus a new laser machine for doing precision work of making even more complex high-end dollhouse kits.
 
In another part of the basement, Lusink’s HO scale models of train layouts of the City of Buford and Lula as they appeared in 1925. “I’m still working on this model, and probably will be for a long time, because I want to get everything about it just right.” 

Preservation and revitalization
Running a farm, managing two businesses, keeping up with three sons, their wives and five grandchildren ranging in age from toddlers to teens, plus another granddaughter on the way, keep Mark and Chris busy. But as if that’s not enough, from the time they moved to Lula, the couple has been very involved in helping revitalize downtown Lula. 
 
Chris is the president of the Lula Belton Historical Society and has been collecting information, photos, and artifacts about the city’s history. “Our goal is to one day open a small museum here,” she said. “There is so much history here and it needs to be preserved and remembered.” In the ’20s and ’30s Lula was the major Southern Railway refueling stop for coal and water halfway between Atlanta and Greenville with 12 passenger trains stopping daily. Now Amtrak passes by at 50 miles per hour on its way to and from New York.
 
She said that she is actively seeking additional historic items and photographs to add to the museum. 
They started by purchasing the former Adams Building, which was built in 1884 and had been unoccupied since the 1970s, the brick building was at one time a major clothing and dry goods store.
 
“It had been boarded up since the 1970s, so we came in and completely remodeled the interior and rebuilt the two-story porch on the front, which had been torn down in the ’40s,” Lusink said. “The downstairs space has been rented to a retail business – Around the Corner Florist – and the upstairs has a two-bedroom apartment that is rented. We felt that it was important to bring some residential space into downtown to help with revitalization.” 
 
Next, they purchased the Poole Building, which had been destined for demolition. They partnered with the city to provide public restrooms in the back 25 feet and then leased the front of the building to “At the Tracks Restaurant,” which serves high-end lunches and dinners and also caters. It’s next to the city’s Veterans Memorial and Water Park, which is a major draw downtown. 
 
City officials recently renovated the historic Lula Train Depot in keeping with the revitalization of the downtown area. The newly renovated building is now available for community functions, city festivals, and concerts, plus private functions.
 
“We have had amazing support from the mayor and council,” Lusink said. “We’re all working together to bring life back to Lula and draw more businesses and residents here. We still want to keep our small-town feel but it would be nice to have a larger grocery store close by.” 
 
In 2014, the Lusinks purchase the Morris Building, built in 1920 as a small gas station, and over the years expanding to a hardware, clothing and home goods store. “The Morris Building was actually added onto several times and expanded over the years to 6,000 square feet,” he said. “With a complete renovation it’s now home to four businesses, including a real estate developer’s office, a dog groomer, a nail and tanning salon and another restaurant – Amanda’s Farm to Fork.” 
 
Now that their work in Lula is completed, the Lusinks have turned their attention to Demorest, where they are restoring the historic train depot. Demorest was a stop on the old Tallulah Falls Railway and the current structure was built in 1903.
 
“We’re bringing it back to what it looked like originally, but we’re turning it into several apartments that we hope to rent to faculty and staff at Piedmont College,” he said. “I’ve been a train buff and so bringing new life to an old train station just seems to fit. And it’s right in line with our shared love of history.” 
 
Meanwhile, the couple has purchased a mountain home in Suches, Georgia. The property has an asparagus field, fruit trees, and a pond they will stock with trout.
 
“It’s at the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest and there are so many trails, amazing wildlife, and rhododendrons there,” Chris said. “Now, the key is finding the time to spend there and enjoy it. We’re adding it to our priority list. We try to get up there as much as we can. It’s another place for us to slow down and enjoy our lives together.”

Posted online 7.30.20
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