As revenues drop with the lake level, merchants grab lifelines

August 24, 2013

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When the hearing involving the Brazos River Authority’s (BRA) request for additional water rights gets under way Monday at the State Office of Administrative Hearings in Austin, Tanner Taff will be there in spirit, but not in body.

He’ll be in Granbury, overseeing a renovation that he hopes will help keep his family’s lakefront business alive. Sales at Lake Granbury Marina and Stumpy’s Lakeside Grill have plummeted just as steadily and surely as the level of Lake Granbury.

Tanner, the general manager for the business owned by his parents, Rick and Cathy, will be supervising the tearing down of a wall that separates Stumpy’s restaurant from the marina store. The store and its clothing sales have plunged 33 percent.

Gas sales are down 85 percent over last year, and business in the service department, where Sea-Doo watercraft are repaired and maintained, is down by 50 percent, according to Tanner.

“It’s not just the gas, but (customers) buy drinks in the marina, they buy flip flops or the kids buy candy,” Tanner said. “And we just virtually have no traffic over on the marina side. We’re just lucky we have Stumpy’s.”

Popular specials such as Taco Tuesdays and Rib Night Fridays often mean that the line to order is all the way to the door.

But despite the restaurant’s popularity, business nevertheless isn’t what it used to be. Taff said he typically has between 20 and 25 restaurant staff, but that number has been reduced this year “by seven or eight.”

Loyal customers often ask Taff how the family is coping as drought and what some allege to be mismanagement by the BRA continue to take their toll on Lake Granbury. The customers also share how they themselves are coping with a lifestyle that seems to be evaporating along with the lake.

“Everyone’s real upset,” said Taff. “They say, ‘I can’t get my boat out.’ I used to have (certain) customers every weekend. Now they say, ‘We took our boat to another lake because we can’t use it here.’”

If there is an aquatic equivalent of a ghost town where tumbleweeds blow forlornly through deserted streets, Lake Granbury may be it.

lifestyles on life support

As the Hood County News went to press on Friday, city and county officials who make up the board of the Lake Granbury Economic Development Corporation were preparing for a conference call with representatives of TXP, Inc. The company was commissioned to do an economic impact study regarding the lake level.

Based on a preliminary report, 36 percent of the county’s property values come from lakefront or lake view properties.

“That shows you right there that more than a third of our county is affected by the lake,” said County Commissioner Steve Berry, a member of the EDC board. He added that businesses such as gas stations and restaurants also are significantly impacted.

In a statement sent to the Hood County News, BRA Public Information Officer Judi Pierce stated: “The BRA is aware of the hardships experienced by businesses that rely on lake traffic. As with everyone else in the basin, we hope that fall rains will improve the drought situation and provide promise for the upcoming year.”

Berry and other members of the Commissioners Court, as well as Granbury City Council members, City Manager Wayne McKethan, members of the Lake Granbury Waterfront Owners Association and Friends (LGWOA) and others plan to be in Austin on Monday for the hearing. The purpose is to determine who can claim party status in the BRA permit request that is pending before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

At their regular meeting this week, members of the Granbury City Council voted to create the Lake Granbury Coalition. The city, county and LGWOA will make up the coalition and will contribute equally in paying legal fees to the Haynes and Boone law firm. Haynes and Boone will be representing the community’s interests in regard to the BRA.

Berry said that the finished economic impact report, which was funded through a community-wide effort, will be released to the public in the coming days.

Kit Getchell, manager of Fun-N-Sun, doesn’t need a written report to see the writing on the wall.

“In 2011, our registered boats in Hood County were 34 percent of my total sales. In 2013, as of July, our business sales are off 34 percent,” Getchell said. “The numbers aren’t there because there’s no water to get on.”

At Carey & Sons Marine, boats sell for as much as $50,000 – when they sell at all. The 50-year-old business that has supported three generations has seen sales dry up, much like the ground beneath homeowners’ docks.

Romney Carey said that big-ticket companies like his family’s are significant contributors to the city’s and county’s tax base. The larger the tax coffers, the better the quality of life.

“Those aren’t hamburger sales,” he said of Carey & Sons’ big-ticket items.

Even hamburger sales aren’t what they used to be.

bottom line

Like Stumpy’s and the Lake Granbury Marina owned by the Taffs, the Careys’ loss in revenue has affected the number of employees they have kept on the payroll.

“Business is down more than 35 percent from last year,” Romney Carey said Wednesday as he sat at his desk not far from a gun display case and a sign advertising CHL (concealed handgun license) classes.

The sideline gun business is something that Kent, Romney and Robert Carey started as a way to counter their slumping boat business. They also have added a storage sideline business, which they will soon be expanding.

“We started doing the guns about three months ago,” Romney said. “It took a year to get licensed and to start that.”

At Fun-N-Sun, efforts to diversify to make up for slowed boat sales include hunting merchandise and, like Lake Granbury Marina, kayaks.

As with Carey & Sons, Getchell said he is seeing more people coming in and asking for help in selling their boats.

“A lot of these are weekend homes. If there’s no water, they’re not coming,” Getchell said. “They’re not spending money at the restaurants and the gas stations and the marinas.”

Over the past several years, revenues at Carey & Sons have dropped 10, 15, 20 percent – and now the losses are at a breathtaking 35 percent.

Another sobering commentary is that more and more people are coming in, not to spend money on a boat, but to try to unload the one they’ve got. The Careys do consignment sales.

“The majority of folks are bringing in boats to sell because they’re selling their houses. They’re done,” Romney said.

Taff said that his family has shifted its focus from Sea-Doos to Hobie Kayaks “because even if the lake goes down to a river, they can still be used.”

The Careys do have something on the horizon that will generate revenue – but it’s a service they never thought they would be asked to provide.

Said Romney: “We will probably start doing boat removals next month.”

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