In storm-ravaged Charlotte County on Florida’s Gulf Coast more than a dozen major RV satellite dealerships have sprung up in vacant lots in the last three weeks, according to a report in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.
Dealers say business is brisk despite operating their showrooms on indoor-outdoor carpet placed on muddy parking lots.
Some recreational vehicle dealers estimate that 25,000 trailers will be sold in the county in coming weeks and say factories nationwide are working overtime to meet the demand.
Not all sales are easy, however, and dealers seem to be caught between the need to help the displaced and the need to make a living.
Most have set up on U.S. 41 in Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda, and several thousand RVs await sales or leases there.
In the former Home Depot parking lot in Port Charlotte, Bates RV from Tampa has opened shop with a stock of about 30 units. In the daytime, Bates sells RVs. At night, the company shelters emergency public safety workers in the models.
Bates Sales Manager Johnny Guinn says that with the continuous threat of hurricanes in the last few weeks, delivery has been a problem.
“I’ve got 15 to 20 deals in the hole, but a lot of them won’t take delivery until the storms pass by,” Guinn said, noting the possible arrival of Hurricane Ivan later this week. “If there’s a storm on the horizon, they’ll delay taking the unit since many can’t get adequate insurance, especially now.”
He said county officials have been receptive, handing out temporary sewer permits swiftly so new owners can get settled.
“Typically, they’re not down with people parking RVs in the front yard, but now it’s OK for the time being, while people rebuild,” he said.
Bobby Clark brought his “five-man operation” to town from Inverness in Citrus County. Demand “blows my mind,” Clark said. He had already sold 12 of his 30 RVs. Clark, who set up in a demolished Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot in Port Charlotte, won’t lease or rent his RVs.
At another larger new “showroom” near the intersection of U.S. 41 and Kings Highway, Bob Colonna has sold 58 RVs since Charley hit.
Sun Coast RV’s sales manager reports selling his inventory down to 28 units with more coming “as weather permits.”
Colonna said his company offers financing and has a “working relationship” with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. His Winter Garden-based employer has sold about 400 RVs to FEMA in recent days.