“When the lake goes down, it just kills business,” said William Sasser, who owns bait and tackle shops in Clarks Hill and McCormick, S.C., along the lake.
Business has turned around for Sasser, though, since June 8, when water elevations reached more than 330 feet above sea level – the lake’s full pool – for the first time since November 2009. Aided by a rainy spring, lake levels remained above 330 feet Friday, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Sasser has run Herring Hut for four years and has a fishing charter business. This past winter, he said, was the worst he’s seen as far as sales. The bait and tackle shops sustained about a 50 percent drop in revenue, but business has returned to about 75 percent as the lake filled.
“It’s a mind-set thing,” Sasser said of customers. “If it’s low, they’ll start doing something else for fun. It really puts a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.”
The wet weather from earlier this year had a counterintuitive effect for Hayes Marine Owner Travis Hayes. Although the abundant rainfall was welcome, he said, it kept boaters from visiting the lake in March and April, which hurt revenue at the business, located in Trade Winds Marina in Appling.
With the lake now full, Hayes said, his service shop and pontoon boat rentals have been slammed with activity for the past two to three weeks.
“Now we’re very, very busy,” he said. “We’re catching up.”
Like Hayes, the owner of Augusta Marine said that rainy weekends initially dampened business but that traffic has since picked up greatly in his 18,000-square-foot showroom.
“I think we’re starting to reap the benefits of it in the past four weeks,” said owner David Whyte. “What concerned us was coming into the spring this year. We felt like it would affect us if the water level wasn’t any better this spring. Then the bottom dropped out from the skies.”
In January, the lake level remained about 15 feet below full pool. Drought conditions caused boat ramps at Wildwood Park to close this winter.
“The economy doesn’t bother me,” Whyte said. “Politics and gas don’t stop someone from buying a boat if they want to. The only thing that concerns me is being able to put your boat in the lake.”
The mood among customers at Hayes Marine also has lifted, said Hayes, who recently noticed that there are more trailers than boats in the marina, a sign that people are out on the lake.
Sharon Thomas, the owner of Little River Roadhouse in Appling, said she has seen more diners since the lake has returned to its optimal level.
“People are staying up here, not getting out of town,” she said. “It just kind of has a domino effect.”