DUCK OUT OF WATER
Determined owner, staff refuse to let Hurricane Ida take out Duck Inn
If you walked into The Duck Inn Taproom today, a thriving family-friendly restaurant and bar on the banks of the Perkiomen Creek off Route 29, you’d have no idea what type of hell the owner and his loyal staff endured just a few short months ago.
In fact, Mark Marino has seen more disaster and chaos in his first three years as the owner of The Duck than many bar owners and restaurateurs face in their entire careers.
First, record-setting flooding from Hurricane Isaac caused water to breach the building’s first floor for the first time in 125 years, forcing Marino to shut down for several weeks to tackle heavyduty cleanup. That disaster was quickly followed by the start of a global pandemic that temporarily shut down the economy and permanently took out scores of small businesses.
Then, on Sept. 1, 2021, the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit.
Marino had prepared for the possibility of flooding this time around by taking all the downstairs’ furniture, equipment and supplies — the tables, chairs, TVs, speakers, coffeemakers and a slew of products — and piling them under a pergola in The Duck’s parking lot.
But predictions drastically underestimated the historic flooding that reached levels of nearly 25 feet, an unofficial record because the gauge that measures the Perkiomen Creek doesn’t go past 20 feet. The damage from Ida surpassed the historic flooding the building sustained from the previous storm.
As I sit listening to Marino in a window booth at The Duck, I have a clear view of the Perkiomen, and the water couldn’t be more than a couple of feet deep.
Inside, the walls are adorned with reminders of the flood’s recent destruction. Posters — complete with an adorable cartoon duck — tell patrons just how high the little creek had risen. “Highest Recorded Flood Elevation Ever 24.5 Feet,” they read.
And Marino was right there to witness the destruction of his livelihood. After closing down early and sending his employees home out of safety concerns, Marino sat out on his establishment’s deck like a grizzled old sea captain and watched in awe as the normally tranquil Perkiomen Creek transformed right before his eyes.
“It was an unbelievable sight,” he says, “water just kept rising and rising.” Marino looked on helplessly as the floodwaters grew vertically and horizontally, covering huge expanses of open fields and roadways by Graterford state prison on the opposite side of the Perkiomen Creek. He was watching from his deck and snapping pictures of the storm’s progress when he heard somebody on the other side of the creek screaming for help. “He was hanging on to a tree for dear life until he was res
cued,” Marino says.
Rising waters kept pushing Marino farther and farther into The Duck until, eventually, he realized he’d have to abandon ship. “I was putting new bar stools on top of the bar to try and protect them when the pressure from the rising creek below pushed the beer cooler up through the bar, breaking it in two and popping it up like a top,” he says. “At that point, I realized there was no saving anything.”
Marino wasted no time wallowing in his misfortune, however, and the morning after the flood he was back at work with one clear objective in mind.
“Cleanup was the top priority, putting the pieces back together was secondary,” he says, adding that for his own sanity, he had to tackle everything one small step at a time because if he looked at the entirety of the damage, he likely would’ve been overwhelmed and quit. It also helped that Marino knew what had to be done.
He had the experience and connections to bypass the hurdles that bogged down other disaster-ridden businesses. “I’m a landscape architect by education,” he says, “but I have been involved in contracting, design, house-flipping and land development for the last 20 years.”
Of course, Marino understands he’s not the only one whose livelihood was jeopardized by Ida. That’s why he made an offer to his staff right after the flood: Help with the rebuilding process and you will continue to receive your paycheck. “It wasn’t their fault we got flooded,” he says, “so I offered the opportunity for any employee who was here prior to the flood to be paid through the entire process of rebuilding if they wanted to help.”
Marino says around 70 percent of his loyal staff took him up on his offer and while the restaurant-workers-turned-contractors driving the reconstruction of The Duck may have hindered the efficiency a bit, the experience brought the staff closer together — and led to plenty of laughs. “I had somebody who was enlightened on what the pointy end of a hammer is actually used for when we were pulling nails out of the walls,” he says.
Marino also had an entire community rooting for him, the type of regulars who would come in on a weekly basis for dinner. “I was astounded by the people who would stop by and offer to help with the rebuilding process,” he says. “People who I’ve never met before.” Customers came by and donated their time, spending a few hours here or there, sweeping the floor, hammering some nails and doing anything they could to help.
On Oct. 22, The Duck Inn officially reopened its doors, a date that was strategically selected because it was Perkiomen Valley High School’s homecoming game.
“We have great support from the school, the sports teams and the parents, so we chose that day,” Marino says. Problem was, everything that could have possibly gone wrong leading up to the reopening did go wrong. There were issues with the new TVs that were just hooked up, the music wasn’t working and, worst of all, the new cash register system wasn’t able to process credit cards correctly. It got to the point where Marino even avoided advertising the grand opening on social media because he saw a disaster and thought the effort was doomed to fail.
But Marino’s lack of advertising didn’t stop loyal patrons from spreading the word about The Duck’s reopening and, thanks to a stroke of good luck, all the issues were resolved in the eleventh hour.
“By four o’clock, we were open, and by six o’clock the place was packed,” says Marino. “It ended up being the perfect ending to a very ugly chapter.” If anybody deserves a stroke of good fortune and a happy ending, it’s a guy who endured a global pandemic and two historic floods in his first years at the helm of The Duck Inn — an establishment that clearly means so much to so many people in the local community.
Duck inn Taproom is located in the Perkiomen View Hotel 534 Gravel Pike, Route 29 on the Perkiomen River.
Jared Bilski, who lives with his family in Collegeville, is a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, among others. Follow him on Twitter at @ JaredBilski.