June 28, 2008
WARSAW — High water levels and gas prices are taking their toll on the summer season at Truman Lake.
Fears about the economy are on many business owners’ minds as they approach the Fourth of July weekend, when out-of-towners pile in for their vacations.
Business owners said traffic is steady so far, but patrons’ buying habits have changed.
“They’re buying necessities, but they’re not buying the extras,” said Barbara Pixler, owner of Country Market Antiques and Bulk Foods, 230 W. Main St. in Warsaw.
She said business at her store isn’t down, but distributed differently. Food items are outselling gifts and antiques.
Business over the Memorial Day holiday weekend was good. Pixler said “Fourth of July will be the teller. We depend on the tourists and lake traffic.”
Benton County sales tax receipts for the first half of the year show a 5 percent decline, about $59,000, over the same period last year, said County Treasurer Rick Renno. Only March brought in more revenue than last year.
Lyla Williams, owner of Touch of Glass Workshop and Fudgery, 318 W. Main St. in Warsaw, said customers pull out their plastic less often.
Williams said cash sales were up 50 percent over credit card sales in June.
Customers still purchase fudge, but buy smaller glass pieces, she said.
“I hear a lot of ‘I’m just browsing,’ ” she said.
She described business this summer as “kind of slow. Not as good as last summer, but not as bad as we anticipated.”
One of the challenges this season is a more narrow profit margin, she said. The price of shipping rose, because of rising gas prices, and that squeezes her profits, she said.
Customers in her store did not venture far from home this year. Williams said she does not see as many out-of-state residents as usual.
“One thing I have noticed is that where people (would) go on a bigger, longer trip, like to Disneyland ... they’re taking shorter trips, within a 200-mile radius of their house. And for Kansas City, we fall into that,” she said.
Dorothy and Richard Bacon, owners of The Pig’s Tale and The Hummingbird Garden Tea Room, 301 Seminary, in Warsaw, said business at their stores reflected similar trends.
“People are still eating, but the gift end of it is down,” said Dorothy Bacon. She speculated that customers’ disposable income is affected by higher gas prices.
Richard Bacon said that regular visitors come less often.
“Instead of people coming every weekend, they’re coming down ever second or third weekend. They’re just not driving down as much,” he said.
The Bacons cut back on their own vacations this summer. The couple typically visits Branson once a month, but they only made the trip once this summer, he said.
The two also cut back on part-time help in their businesses. He pointed to slower business and the coming increase in minimum wage as reasons.
“We’re left, basically, with four choices: cut hours, cut employees, raise prices, or go out of business,” he said.
High water and bad weather both took a toll on lake traffic this summer, he said.
“You don’t see near the same number of boats out on the lake,” he said.
Flood waters began to recede last week, said Myrna Schroder, visitor attendant at Harry S. Truman Regional Visitor Center. The water peaked at 727.7 feet above sea level, 22 feet higher than normal.
Jim Lehares, owner of Sterett Creek Marina, said Wednesday he hoped to re-open his boat ramp by today.
“It’s finally starting to go down ... if they continue to run water, we’ll be OK for the Fourth of July,” he said.
Lehares said weather, rather than fuel prices, is the biggest concern for his patrons.
“We’re finding people are taking shorter trips,” staying longer and visiting less often, he said.
“People are adjusting,” he said.
Columbia resident Gregory Gunn said he visits Truman Lake twice a year.
“We expected the high cost of fuel and factored that in, so that doesn’t bother us,” he said. The family plans to take a trip to Arkansas later this summer, and a longer vacation as well. Gas prices have not affected those plans.
“We probably weren’t going to fly anywhere this summer,” he said.
His family was more worried about the effect closed boat ramps and beaches would have on fishing and swimming.
Avid boaters are not deterred by gas prices, said Dennis Morgan, owner and president of Angler’s Port Marine, 13979 Highway 7 in Warsaw.
“The Ranger boat buyers know their boats are expensive, and know their hobbies are expensive," he said.
Business has been up this summer, and high-end boat sales are good.
“The only thing that’s really kept us a little slower at times is the weather. The weather has affected us more than the gas,” he said.
Some boat ramps were closed due to flooding, but fishing tournaments were well attended, he said.
Warsaw Area Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Sandi Schmitt said requests for visitor information packets came from in-state this year, and rental cabins are booked.
“Maybe people are not coming as often ... but they’re not giving up their holidays,” she said.