The COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on many businesses and events, but those along the Geist Reservoir waterfront aren’t among them.
“Things are busier than heck,” said Greg Binder, manager at Geist Marina. “Ever since COVID hit and people realized they could play and be safe out on the lake, they’ve been renting, renting, renting. We went from thinking maybe we won’t have much business (in 2020) to maxing out. We’ve been at full capacity since July 1 of last year and sales went through the roof and have continued.”
Binder has managed Geist Marina since 2017 and saw boat sales and rentals increase each year before rising sharply in 2020.
“The parking lot here looked like July Fourth every weekend last year,” Binder said of the marina’s busiest day in a normal year. “Between boat sales and slip rentals and gas sales, I think there has been a whole different level of customers that came to boating because of COVID and now will stay.”
Those customers have kept coming in 2021, Binder said.
“It’s the same, but now it’s a full season. Last year, we started with nothing, then it all kicked in when people realized that they could get out and be safe on a boat,” he said. “This year started busier than all can be. The only thing that has done anything to slow us down has been the weather.”
Every boat in Binder’s fleet is rented out for every weekend through August. The marina has boats still available on some weekdays and nights.
Anyone hoping for last-minute Fourth of July rentals will be disappointed. Binder rented those boats out in early April.
Besides the weather, the biggest challenge facing the marina this year has been supply chain issues.
“I’ve had a rental boat down for a week and a half waiting on a throttle cable. We just had to wait. Sometimes it takes weeks,” Binder said. “I have a ton of life jackets that haven’t shown up. They’re on a container ship somewhere. I bought (a lot of) tubes in October (2020) that were due in March and I’m still waiting on them.”
Restaurants faring well, too
Lakefront restaurants thrive off the success of the marina. More people on the water means more people looking for convenient dining options.
“We have boat-side service, and even last year our boat sales were through the roof,” said Nyla Wolf, who owns Wolfies Grill with her husband, Scott. “People will be out on the water and come to us, which is great.”
Wolf expects sales at Wolfies Grill to surpass 2019’s total. The restaurant saw a 50 percent decrease in sales from 2019 to 2020.
“I think this year is going to be the best year that we’ve ever had in our restaurants,” Wolf said. “I think it really has to do with people just coming out, and we’re up 30 percent in carryout, which helps us, too.”
Business also is better this year at Puccini’s Pizza and Pasta. “We’re doing really well,” manager Ryan Davis said. “During the pandemic, we went to carry-out only. We were having a really hard time staffing but having our college kids back has helped us reopen.”
Davis has been working with Puccini’s at different locations for about 17 years and has been at the Geist location for the last year and a half. He said he’s noticed a connection between the success of businesses in Geist and activity on the water.
“People are out all the time. People on the water are doing dock-side services again. People love the patio at our location, and weather is a big part of this location,” Davis said. “Nice days, we do extremely well. If it’s raining, we can be kind of slow. People just love being outside on the water.”
Supply chain problems
Among the biggest challenges this year at Geist Marina is finding parts and supplies, according to manager Greg Binder.
“The freeze in Texas messed up all the production of the foam, so that affects furniture, RVs, boat furniture. There’s some supply chain problems with the resin pellets that people use for gelcoats on fiberglass boats,” Binder said.
In the last decade, many businesses, like Geist Marina, moved away from having storehouses on-site because delivery systems had become so efficient and quick that there was little need to store an abundance. That system worked well as long as supply chains remained intact.
“(In 2020 and 2021) that supply chain got all messed up,” Binder said. “That Suez Canal thing? It locked up a bunch of stuff. Container ships with parts couldn’t show up to manufacturers, so they can’t finish this boat or that RV, which causes big delays.”