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Deep Creek Times August Cover Story

State of the Deep Creek Lake Area During the Pandemic

By: Mike Tumbarello

I think most readers would admit that these times, whether locally at the lake, regionally, nationally or globally, are unique and challenging on many fronts and for many complex reasons. Fortunately, the local scene may be the least disrupted of all the levels indicated above.

A look at the national scene shows a divided population, some “interesting” political divisions and developments, a bounce-back of COVID-19 in some areas of the country and a challenging, uncertain economy.  Examples of the national economy’s challenges include:

  • Recent bankruptcies and closures among some major US business enterprises, including retailers Neiman Marcus, J. C. Penney, GNC, J. Crew, Pier 1 and Modell’s, with over 15 others filing for bankruptcy in 2020 so far;
  • Those numbers being clearly impacted by shrinking consumer spending due to the coronavirus pandemic, with consumer spending down 34.6% in the second quarter, on top of a 5% decrease in Q1;
  • US exports falling in Q2, down by 64.1% due to economic downturns and lockdowns in the economies of our global trading partners;
  • Government spending by the federal government increased by 17.4%, even while the recently robust housing and renovation market posted a 38.7% decrease in Q2; and
  • The all-inclusive measure – US gross domestic product – in Q2 reflected all of the collective challenges, posting a record decline of 32.9% (seasonally adjusted, annual rate).

I thought I would look at Garrett County and the Deep Creek Lake area to see how we are doing locally, thinking of the business adage: “Think globally but act locally.” Well, compared to other communities across the country and across the globe, we seem, at least on the surface, to be holding our own these days.

The summer crowds are here in force and our restaurants and other retail establishments mostly appear to be busy. While I still see lines outside Lakeside Creamery, Arrowhead is busy, especially on weekends, Brenda’s carry-out is going gangbusters and Walmart seems packed, I worry about those restaurants and service businesses that were closed or remain closed, especially smaller restaurants and retailers, including in Oakland and outside the immediate lake-area.  I also worry about the service workers in those businesses and all of the independent contractors, including waitstaff, chefs, musicians, artists, and others.  It may take a while for the full, complete story to form even if the Deep Creek Lake area has apparently emerged and appears to be gaining momentum.

Rather than rely on observation or anecdotal, second-hand insight, I thought I would go out and ask a few bellwether businesses what they are experiencing. Here’s some additional insight from the lake-area’s economic “front lines” to add a little “color” and depth to the situation.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Judy Devlin, owner of my favorite bookstore, the Book Mark’et, on South Second Street in Oakland on Saturday. According to Judy, “While we were closed for a while and offer limited hours at present, business has really picked up in recent weeks and is looking good. I must also comment that as we strictly follow the governor’s guidelines, our customers have been following our in-store “rules” relative to masks, social distancing and limits on the number of people present at any time. Things are good for us and will hopefully continue.”

From my travels around Oakland on Saturday and the county on Sunday, things for the most part look robust, even as some entities are known to be feeling the effects of the pandemic. I thought I would also reach out to some of our real estate-related businesses, as real estate is closely tied to tourism and of course, the county’s economic well-being.

Real Estate

I contacted Kristin Skeweris, Media & Marketing Director at Railey Realty and she offered the following insight into the marketplace for both real estate sales and vacation rentals:

“After a momentary stall, the real estate market picked up in a big way around the entire county at the beginning of May. As the need for privacy and a safe getaway home increased, we began seeing competing offers on new listings and properties located on acreage. After months of lower than average listing inventory and relatively flat new listings coming on the market, the sudden surge in buyer interest pushed our market into a state of very low inventory. In June 2020, 226 homes were for sale – an 85% drop from the 5-year-average for June of 417. Conversely, new pending sales last month were up 50% from the 5-year-average. Comparing the first half of 2020 to the first half of 2019 shows moderate increases in dollar volume and units sold. We look for sales to pull further ahead of 2019 as we continue through summer and into fall.

In the past 7 days (as of July 23rd), 21 new homes were listing in Garrett County, and 31 homes went under contract. That’s only 7 days! In total, there are 212 homes for sale in Garrett County, 145 of which are under contract. It’s a GREAT time to sell your home! You can get more stats from our most recent market update , it breaks everything down more :

I also reached-out to Taylor-Made Real Estate, where Jay Ferguson, Owner and Sales Agent, had this to say: “From a real estate perspective, we are seeing an increase in people who want to relocate to Garrett County/Deep Creek Lake. The lifestyle here is more desirable than ever. Virtual school and work from home opportunities are giving people the freedom to live wherever they would like.”  

Vacation Rentals

According to Jodi Refosco, Owner of Taylor-Made, “Year-to-date, our reservations are up 36% compared to last year. Much of that increase can be attributed to a surge in summer stays. We are also seeing significantly more fall reservations than we’ve had in the past. September and October weekends are pacing ahead of last year by as much as 20%. Higher demand creates a need for additional staff. We have more than 200 employees. Plus, a busier fall season gives us the ability to offer employment opportunities that are long term and not just seasonal.”

Skeweris from Railey had this to say about the vacation rental market: “Similar to what Deep Creek saw post-9/11, there’s been a large spike in interest for vacations and getaways to Deep Creek Lake from cities and suburban areas within a five-hour driving distance. As more families are wary of traveling by plane or to larger destinations, the quiet and small-town appeal of Deep Creek Lake draws them to us.

Vacation Rental Homes, due to their privacy and efficiency as functioning homes, are more desirable in the era of COVID-19. Guests are able to arrive at their home and enjoy their vacation without sacrificing usable amenities. In comparison, staying at a hotel at the beach provides much less privacy, no private kitchen, and more contact with other guests. We believe this is why we’re seeing such high demand for guests coming to Deep Creek in lieu of their beach vacation.

Where most homes may have sat empty during the week and only rented on weekends, we’re seeing a rise in mid-week stays as the desire to get away outweighs the regular plan to get away on the weekend. The more flexible arrival days and shorter stays help space out the turnover days for our cleaning vendors and allow for them to perform the necessary and heightened cleanings between guest stays. {We have} already seen tremendous interest in stays for September and we have less than 25 homes remaining for Labor Day Weekend”

It looks like the pandemic has helped many people find or re-discover real estate purchases and vacation rentals at Deep Creek Lake.  This is good for our real estate companies and the many other businesses, contractors and employees that support them and their customers throughout the season.  Perhaps that is a small silver lining for the area as the nation continues to battle COVIC-19 and so many businesses and individuals are impacted.

I thank all of our front-line business owners and employees that are helping us serve the needs of our community and wish all of them, our local citizens, second home owners and all of our many visitors a safe, healthy and rewarding experience. Let’s all be nice to one another, be safe, and make the best of these challenging times at the lake and elsewhere.