Yesterday, Thao Bui threw out the entire contents of her 2,000-square-foot green house, pot by pot, knowing that no one was going to buy them.
Business is so bad at the Good Hope Garden Inc. in Silver Spring that even with a half-off sale, she gets just two customers a day. She has laid off two of her four workers, and the thought of closing down her $200,000-a-year business "has entered my mind," she said. About a third of her business is landscaping, and the plants and trees she sells are guaranteed for a year. "We have to replace them if they aren't watered," she said. "That effect will come later--fall and early next year."
It couldn't get much worse for some area businesses including gardeners, golf courses and landscapers, whose livelihood depends on steady water.
But for some businesses, the drought is a welcome windfall.
Jack T. Irwin Stone Inc., a Rockville stone wholesaler, has doubled its business since the drought took hold because landscapers are turning from green gardens to stone gardens. Contractors are working on flagstone patios and walkways and homeowners are showing up to buy stones as an alternative decoration for their bone-dry lawns.
"I know a lot of [landscapers] who are taking every stone job they can get," said sales manager Mike Gregario, because customers are putting off planting.
Linganore Winecellars in Mount Airy is toasting the drought, because dry soil makes for a sweeter wine. When moisture is low, grape vines dig deeper--as much as 10 feet underground--to search for nutrients, says vineyard manager Eric Aellen. "Basically, a drought year concentrates the flavor, and in the late harvest, sugar [levels] are really going to pop up nicely," he said.
Not so happy are people such as Jim Scuderi and the eight employees he may have to lay off because of the 60 percent drop in business in their Rockville landscaping business. In the 12 years that Scuderi has owned All Season Maintenance Inc., he never has gotten so many calls from his 130 customers saying, "don't come" to service their lawns. Residents in the District, who are not under water restrictions, are among the few clients he has left.
"There's no rain in the future; no hurricanes on the horizon. Nothing. We're in trouble," Scuderi said. "We should be qualifying for low-interest loans too," he said, referring to the federal emergency aid offered to farmers.
Having the driest weather since the Depression hasn't been auspicious for Tom Lipscomb's three-month-old business, P.B. Dye Golf Club in Ijamsville, Md. Because of watering restrictions imposed this week by Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), area golf courses have had to cut back on watering fairways by 80 percent, which makes maintaining young grass difficult, Lipscomb said. Fairways at more established golf courses are dry, too, but "at least their grass is more mature and able to withstand a little more heat," he said.
Some District businesses are cashing in on Maryland's dire straits. Montana Double Car Wash in Northeast Washington is doing better business because of an influx of Maryland residents taking refuge from water restrictions by crossing the District line. Assistant manager Dakalallah Ashkar said his business has been busier than usual all week, in large part because of the increased volume of cars with Maryland license plates. "I think the number will go up as more people become aware of the drought and what they can and cannot do," he said.
The drought also has created enterprising squatters out of bugs moving into homes searching for water, which in turn means excellent business for the pest control companies dispatched to kill them.
The drier it gets, the more some insects move into homes to find moisture, said a salesman for Connor's Complete Pest Control in Leesburg. "Just like us . . . they're trying to get cool," he said. "It's really a positive situation for us."
Mary Farmer, a representative of Western Pest Services in Fairfax, couldn't be happier with the weather's "unbelievable" effect on business. The soaring carpenter ant population this year has increased ant removal about 30 percent over last year, she said. And the ants seem to be harder to get rid of.
Staff writers Sarah Schafer, Jamie Baylis and Jamie Stockwell contributed to this report.