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Full pool: Three lake businesses compare now to then
Skogies manager Krista Bryan places tops on cocktail sauce inside the kitchen Wednesday. The Gainesville restaurant has seen more of their regular customers return as Lake Lanier inched closer to full pool. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

State of economy slows fishing traffic

Kerry Hicks, owner of the Smokin’ Fisherman in Clermont, sells fishing supplies and tobacco products. His business relies on recreation and has been tied to the level of Lake Lanier as well as the economy.

July 2008: Hicks said less water in the lake and customers with less disposable income made his summer profits plummet. People didn’t spend money on supplies and didn’t want to fill up boats with gas at $4 per gallon.

"That’s what hurts your tackle stores; if you don’t fish you don’t lose anything. If you don’t lose anything, you don’t got to buy it," Hicks said in 2008.

Hicks said business was also hurt by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ restrictions on nighttime and weekend fishing tournaments.

Though his fishing sales dropped markedly, Hicks said his tobacco sales were steady.

"Smoking, it fluctuates. You have a bad day, you smoke more. You worry, you smoke more. So the worse the economy gets, probably the more smoking’s going to pick up," he said.

Now: Hicks said a full lake has helped some, though the economy is still keeping many fishermen away from the store.

"The fishing tackle business is still down the tubes, still," Hicks said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has lifted restrictions on fishing tournaments, though participation is down. Many tournaments have an entry fee of $150 to $200.

"Last week at Laurel Park they had 18 boats show up," Hicks said. "You’re not getting a whole lot of participants, because everybody’s broke because of the economy."

Hicks said recreational fisherman haven’t been fishing more since the water level has gone up.

And federal legislation has hurt smoking sales.

"As of Sept. 22 all the flavored cigarettes went away so you can’t sell cloves and anything like that any more. Now the only thing you can sell in the United States is menthol or just regular cigarettes," Hicks said.

The federal tobacco tax a on cigarettes rose from 39 cents per pack to $1.01 April 1.

"Maybe at the beginning of next summer we might see things pick up," Hicks said. "If the economy would have rose as the lake rose we’d be great right now."

Business by boat returns to Skogie’s

This summer, Rick Skoglund, owner of Skogie’s Waterfront Eatery, got his old customers back.

As Lake Lanier’s water level began to rise, it brought with it the customers that Skogie’s seems built for: those who travel by boat.

"I think there was a lot of pent-up energy," Skoglund said. "People that didn’t put their boats in the water for a year or two ... and being able to boat without tearing your prop up. It’s been real good."

Unlike other lakeside businesses, Skoglund’s restaurant at Gainesville Marina never suffered terribly from the drought.

But while the drought drained Lake Lanier and fuel prices spiked in 2008, customers did stop coming to the restaurant by boat.

For the duration, the restaurant’s business relied heavily on customers who came by car. And while those customers kept him afloat, Skoglund suspects that now that the lake is back, business at the restaurant is at its best.

"We will probably, when it’s all said and done, have had a record year this year," Skoglund said. "Last year was not that bad ... we maintained a decent business. But this year, it really went back to big numbers again. It went back to really good sales like in ’07."

‘A better frame of mind’

It’s all in your head.

That’s what Park Marine Boating Centers Vice President Brent Danneman says about Lake Lanier reaching full pool, which could provide positive publicity for boat sales.

"Psychologically, I think it’s great. Drought season is behind us. ... Everybody’s in a better frame of mind," he said of the many business owners who make a living from the lake.

Full pool, plus reasonable gas prices and more "staycations" equal more boat and personal watercraft sales for Park Marine’s five Georgia locations, Danneman said.

He said though the lake was still down about 6 feet in May, boat sales were up about 20 percent and personal watercraft sales were up about 25 percent this summer compared to 2008, which began with the lake down more than 10 feet.

"We found that instead of going to Disney World, people wanted to stay home," he said. "People were enjoying area recreation."

Danneman said he believes most boat dealers on Lake Lanier did much better this summer compared to last. That’s due in part to many Atlanta boat dealerships folding, he said.

Danneman said as long as the rain keeps falling, area boat dealers are in business.

"I’d say we’re poised for a good year in 2010," he said.