A hundred years ago, firefighters on horse-drawn carriages rode out of the fire station at 1805 East Grace St.
Starting Thursday, tourists on Segways can cruise out of the same building.
Nathan Willis, Chad Harvey and Jeff Majer this week launched River City Segs, a Segway tour business that caters to both adventure seekers and history buffs.
With their new Shockoe Bottom venture, the trio will be bringing some competition to their former employer.
Willis, Harvey and Majer met while working at the nearby Segway of Richmond, which sells the vehicles and offers tours out of its shop in Shockoe Slip. After several personal injury lawsuits caused that company to lose its liability insurance for a time, they decided to go out on their own in early August.
“It got to a point where we just said, ‘We run this thing anyway, why are we doing it for someone else?’” said Majer, 36, who will manage the tours at the new business.
River City Segs went from an idea to a fully operational business in less than two months. Willis, Majer and Harvey started looking at properties in early August. It wasn’t easy to find a location in the Shockoe district that met all of the company’s needs, Majer said.
“We really wanted something like that abandoned firehouse they used in ‘Ghostbusters,’ the one where they mess with the ectoplasm,” Majer said.
When Willis and Majer rode by the Grace Street station, they had their “Ghostbusters” moment. They leased the empty space the same day and started hauling in Segways and installing the training course.
“The next month was crazy,” Majer said. “It seemed like an ’80s movie montage.”
Willis, 41, said it took about $70,000 to get the business up and running, with expenses such as equipment, rent, insurance and a custom-made training course. An investor whom Willis would not name picked up part of the bill, but the rest was paid for out of pocket.
Harvey, 26, said River City Segs would have a grand opening in the next month. He and his partners purchased 20 Segways from their old shop and developed seven tour routes.
In a bid to train riders and prevent Segway mishaps, the group spent $1,800 to build a ramp onsite with varying heights to mimic the experience of a Richmond sidewalk. Other training obstacles teach riders how to navigate cobblestones and cracked pavement.
“At the old shop, the training course was limited,” Majer said. “There were some situations you might not run into until you were actually out on the road. Here we want to try and cover every possible scenario a rider might come up against.”
The company tours range from $39 to $59.
“We try and cater the tours to the specific group of riders we have,” Majer said. “If we have a group of people really interested in the Civil War, that’s what we’ll focus on. We try to never give the same tour twice.”
Eventually, the team wants to expand to cater to private events. For now, Harvey said they are focused on giving the most accurate tours in the city.
That’s “the thing about Segways — you can have a 15-year-old and 55-year-old out on tour, and they’ll both enjoy it,” Harvey said. “That’s what’s really cool about it.”