WELL-TRAVELED: Cruise Brothers owner Steven Gelfuso’s company, with a 40-foot-long sign and an ocean liner adorning its then-Cranston headquarters, beckoned commuters on I-95 for two decades. In April the company moved to East Providence.
A small window to the tropics for Interstate 95 commuters in Cranston over the last 14 years has left Wellington Avenue.
Cruise Brothers, the outgoing and outsized Rhode Island travel company whose offices since 1988 featured a 40-foot-long sign with an ocean liner, palm trees and the faces of brothers Russ and Steven Gelfuso, moved to East Providence in April.
The move was practical – the new Kent Heights location is larger and has real office space – although not voluntary. The owner of the old Dayton Tire Building wanted to bring his classic-car dealership into the building to utilize its large windows and warehouse-like showroom.
But along with the direct reasons for leaving the Cranston space, Cruise Brothers’ move to East Providence illustrates how the Internet has changed the travel industry and how much the Gelfusos’ 40-year-old family business has evolved.
No longer is drawing in a local clientele the core of the Cruise Brothers business – clients now come from across the country and access the agency through phone and Internet – so physical visibility is less important.
“We are a national business now, only 10 percent of our business comes from Rhode Island,” said Steven Gelfuso, sole owner of Anywhere Inc., the company that owns Cruise Brothers, since buying out his brother. “And with the Internet, you don’t need everyone to see you on the highway.”
The business that would become Cruise Brothers was founded by Gelfuso’s father in the early 1970s, after his secretary started working for a travel agency. In those early days, the travel agency was just one room attached to his father’s law office on Plainfield Street in Cranston.
In 1981, Gelfuso got out of college, where he studied marketing, and began working in the travel business, selling tour packages and booking corporate trips.
In the late 1980s, Gelfuso and his brother, Russ, began focusing on the cruise industry, which was still relatively young. A marketing specialist suggested a campaign focused around the two brothers – one a ship’s captain and the other a mate – and to rebrand the company Cruise Brothers.
Almost immediately, the name and concept stuck.
The cruise industry has continued to grow and evolve since Steven Gelfuso first became involved during the “Love Boat” era.