May 21, 2014

Beach services in Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach not expecting surge in umbrella sales due to tent ban

Those providing services to beach-goers this summer said they are not expecting to rent any more umbrellas than usual even though beach tents are no longer allowed on the beach.

Those providing services to beach-goers this summer said they are not expecting to rent any more umbrellas than usual even though beach tents are no longer allowed on the beach.

George Lack, owner of Lack’s Beach Service, said he hasn’t purchased any additional chairs or umbrellas in light of this year’s ban on tents, and doesn’t think there will be a need. Beach services rent umbrellas and chairs to beach-goers as well as provide lifeguard services.

“This will be my 40th season on the beach,” he said. “My experience has been that the people that bring their things, bring their things. Just because they bring a tent doesn’t mean they don’t have an umbrella, too.”

North Myrtle Beach and Atlantic Beach banned the canopy-style tents from May 15 to Sept. 15. Monday will be the first day of a ban in Myrtle Beach, where the tents are banned from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Horry County bans tents on county beaches year round. The county’s ban took effect April 16. All four jurisdictions allow umbrellas as the only shading device on the beach during the stipulated times.

About seven years ago, North Myrtle Beach opted to bring lifeguard services in-house because City Council wanted more control of the level of service provided, city spokesman Pat Dowling said.

Dowling said the city also does not expect to see a spike in umbrella rentals and hasn’t purchased additional supplies for this summer.

“There’s no huge influx of umbrellas and beach chairs in our budget,” he said. “Some will rent from us, but most will probably bring their own.”

Lack said his businesses has yet to recover since the recession in 2008, and has almost consistently been down about 15 percent from that year’s revenues. Lack’s business provides services on the north and south ends of Myrtle Beach and the unincorporated parts of Horry County from Myrtle Beach’s northern city limits to North Myrtle Beach and from Myrtle Beach’s southern city limits to Surfside Beach.

Earl Huggins of Huggins’ Beach Service said he’s seen business increase over the past two to four years. He credits the opening of the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. Huggins provides services from 14th Avenue North to Second Avenue North in Myrtle Beach.

Huggins said he’s not sure why people think the tent ban was passed as a way for beach services to make more money.

“It’s not the ‘get rich’ thing that people think it is,” he said, adding that he’s been in the lifeguard business for nearly 40 years. “It’s something that we like doing ... it’s in you.”

Myrtle Beach has franchise agreements with four beach service companies – John’s Beach Service, Gene’s Beach Service as well as Lack’s and Huggins’ – where each lifeguard stand that offers chair and umbrella rentals must pay the city 3 percent of its gross revenue up to $1,210.

“Obviously, the intent of having the beach franchises is to provide lifeguard service for our beach-goers, not to generate a large income for the city,” city spokesman Mark Kruea said. “Having the franchisees provide lifeguard service, rather than providing lifeguards in-house, also is a significant savings for the city.”

State law prohibits municipalities from reporting financial information about an individual franchisee.

In fiscal year 2014, which began July 1, 2013, and ends June 30, beach services have paid $54,735 in franchise fees. That number is slightly more than fiscal year 2013, when franchisees paid $53,428. In fiscal year 2012, franchisees paid a total of $54,325.89 to the city.

Chair and umbrella rentals bring in about $1.2 million of North Myrtle Beach’s $2.1 million in beach services revenue, which also includes refreshment and amusement sales. Annual expenditures are about $2 million.

Dowling said North Myrtle Beach still is paying back debt incurred purchasing equipment such as ATVs, small trucks and rescue equipment, when it brought beach services in-house. Any excess money from beach operations goes to paying down the city’s debt, Dowling said.

Huggins was one of the people who proposed initiating a ban during a Myrtle Beach Beach Advisory Committee last summer because he said they cause problems for lifeguards who might need to get to someone who is in distress in the water. Huggins also said there are areas where the beach is very narrow at high tide due to erosion.

“I hated [proposing the ban] because I don’t want to upset anyone,” he said. “But you have to think about the greater good. ... If we had 100 feet of beach and had tents out there, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

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