The boating season arrives amidst questionable weather and questionable economic conditions, leaving those in the boating business with a mixture of expectations.
Travis Hayes owns Hayes Marine in Appling with his wife, Cathy. The boating business started with his grandfather and continued with Hayes' father, but the business closed in the early 1990s.
In June 2007, Hayes purchased Harbor Point Marine at 5580 Marina Parkway near the Tradewinds Marina and restarted the family tradition.
"Our business obviously is cyclical, and we're lucky to have a long boating season," Cathy Hayes said. "We definitely have people coming out to the lake now, and when school is out, people will be here."
Pamela Bugg, the owner of Little River Marina & Family Resort in Appling, said she also is optimistic about this year's boating season.
"I had more people here over the Masters this year than I've ever had before," she said. "I thought (high gas prices) would deter people."
Bugg admitted she had her doubts about the lake's low water level, but said she doesn't want to focus on the negative aspects.
Judging from business during winter, Bugg said, she believes gas and slip rental sales will be favorable, as will cabin and boat rentals.
"You just have to focus on what is and quit worrying about what was," she said.
Drought conditions in Georgia are not expected to drastically improve this spring and summer, according to a 2008 drought outlook by state climatologist David Stooksbury.
This, coupled with rising fuel prices, has some in the boat business leery of having a successful season.
The state of the boating business and the lake's low water levels affected business last year at West Marine on Bobby Jones Expressway, inventory manager Karl Swanson said.
"Business was up in certain areas and down in other areas," he said. "We're careful about the types of things we carry."
Swanson said tubing and ski sales were down at the boating equipment and supply store, while propellers' sales increased because of damage incurred at the lake.
Swanson said he remains cautiously optimistic this year.
"We're hoping for rain so that the lake levels stay up," he said.
At The Boat Center on Washington Road, business is booming, said manager Allen Arnold.
"There was a lull heading into the spring, but now boating season is wide open and so is the boating business, right here at The Boat Center anyway," he said.
Arnold said he has talked to other boat dealers in Atlanta who say business is slow.
In this area, however, he said, people travel to the lake even when the water level drops.
"People are used to it," Arnold said. "There's still plenty of water up there in the lake. You just have to be more careful when you're on it."
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