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SAILING BUSINESS — Real Recovery or Seasonal Spark? By Dan Dickison that works to promote the growth of recreational boating throughout the state. According to Suzi DuRant, the executive director of that organization, a majority of SCMA’s members are wary yet optimistic at the same time regarding economic recovery. “I’m seeing signs of recovery that I don’t think are attributable to seasonality,” she offers. “Our transient season was very slow, but I see more boat owners having work done and upgrades made to their boats than I did this time last year. Work in the yards is picking up. I think new boat sales are still slow, although our manufacturers tell me that their overseas sales are strong. Of course, Charleston Race Week was the largest it’s ever been, and the fishing tournaments are picking up new sponsors. All in all, I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic that a recovery is beginning, but I think we still have a long way to go.” DuRant makes a point of having a comprehensive perspective on the sailing business in South Carolina, which is something she shares with Dwayne Schalles. As the South Carolina district manager for Port Supply, the wholesale arm of West Marine, he regularly travels around the state, visiting stores. According to Schalles, company data indicates that sales in South Carolina West Marine stores are up almost 8.5 percent over the same time last year. “Yes,” says Schalles, “there’s definitely a seasonal aspect to this increase in business, but I see people getting their boats ready a lot earlier this year than in previous years. I think the challenging economy caused a lot of boat owners to let their boats sit untouched for the past two years. So now, there’s a


ith a shrug, punctuated by a smile, Tripp Fellabom offers an outlook that fairly characterizes almost anyone in business these days: “I really want to be optimistic,” he says. Given the sluggish state of the economy—and that of the marine industry in particular—his words could form a motto for the entire sailing industry. Sitting in his tidy office just a minute’s walk from the docks at the Charleston City Marina, Fellabom has a credible perspective on this. Throughout almost four decades as a sailmaker and business owner, he has seen downturns in the economy come and go. But he’s not certain that it has ever been as bad as the last 16 months. Despite reports that the U.S. economy is now recovering, Fellabom doesn’t see sufficient evidence of a genuine turnaround in the local sailing scene. Don’t get me wrong, he explains, “I think commerce in the local boating community is somewhat on the rise, but you have to ask: Is it just the time of year? We always see an improvement in the industry this time of year. So, is this really a recovery? That’s hard to gauge. And I haven’t heard anyone make a bold pronouncement that we’re out of the woods.” Fellabom isn’t alone in that outlook. Just across the harbor, Stan Jones, who manages marina operations for the 459slip Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina, echoes those sentiments: “Overall, I’m very optimistic. I have to be. There’s nowhere to go but up. We’re at 60 percent occupancy right now, so there’s really no other way to go.” Both Jones and Fellabom are members of the South Carolina Marine Association, a professional advocacy group

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June 2010