For those in the know, the distinctive diagonal white stripe on a red background displayed on Main Street in Downtown Leominster is a pleasant surprise. They immediately recognize the diver down flag used to alert vessels that scuba divers and snorkelers are underwater. “A lot of customers see the diver down flag while driving by and stop in to check us out,” say first-time small business owners Matt and Pam DeMar, who opened Descent Divers, only the second dive shop in Worcester County, to have fun and grow the local underwater community.
The shop’s prime location at 6 Main Street boasts floor space for an array of scuba diving merchandise, from face masks to flippers. Even more convenient is the space upstairs that serves as a classroom for the wide range of courses offered at Descent Divers. Some of those courses, like Open Water Diving, cater to beginners. But the DeMars also offer an array of specialized certification courses, from Rescue Diving to Night Diving, for more experienced divers. And for those who want to dive year-round closer to home, the shop’s certification courses in Full Face Mask Diving and Dry Suit Diving are big hits. Since scuba divers equipped with a full-face mask and dry suit leave nothing exposed to the elements, they can continue diving in local lakes or along the South Shore well after the traditional end of diving season in November.
Whichever course customers choose, it’s helpful to know that Descent Divers is affiliated with internationally recognized PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), which issues the scuba diving certifications. “Many of our courses are also ACE (American Council of Education) accredited,” adds Matt about the accreditation, which means that some courses can count as transferable college credits in physical fitness or environmental science.
Enriched air for longer dives
Matt is a certified scuba diving instructor who volunteered for years with Operation Blue Pride, a nonprofit based in Newton, MA, which offers free scuba training to veterans. So, he knows the ins and outs of diving and offers other essential services at Descent Divers, everything from repairing regulators to producing and selling enriched air nitrox (EANx). The enriched air tanks are essential to deep-water divers who run the risk of getting the bends, a potentially deadly nitrogen saturation in tissue that occurs when divers remain submerged for a long time. EANx increases the amount of oxygen in the tank up to 40% to minimize nitrogen intake. Luckily, the shop’s Main Street location also includes a basement that houses the compressor used to manufacture EANx. And the certification you need to purchase the enriched air? Descent Divers offers that non-dive training course right upstairs.
Seal pups, scallops and lobsters
“It’s amazing what you can see underwater even out here,” says Matt of New England’s waterways, which tend to be murkier than tropical destinations. Seeing seal pups play underwater is one of those amazing sights, while more adventurous souls can scuba dive for lobsters. Although picking up a lobster at your local grocer might be more convenient, Matt insists that “it’s more fun to dive for your own.” Rest assured, the shop offers essential gear for lobster diving, like squeeze-handle claw-proof bags and curved tickle sticks used to coax lobsters out of hiding.
Networking and community outreach
When it came to handling the logistics of opening a scuba diving shop, like booking pool time for underwater training, the couple say being members of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce was invaluable. “The Chamber is good about helping businesses network with other businesses and institutions in the area,” explains Pam. “Especially when we needed additional pool times, having those connections was very helpful.”
According to the owners of Descent Divers, their Chamber of Commerce membership is also great for community outreach since it connects them with community organizers, like those who might plan beach cleanups. “People often forget to clean up what’s in the water,” Matt cautions. “We’re eager to participate in those beach cleanups since we can dive underwater and pick up discarded litter that washes into the waterways.”
Whether you’re a seasoned scuba diver or want to get certified, the dive shop owners encourage you to stop by for a chat. “But bring a friend,” warns Matt. “You’ll need a dive buddy.”