From North Carolina -- The Good Recession
It was the summer of 1971. South Florida was hot, but nobody was there to know it. I had, of course, known that people came to Florida in the winter. But nobody told me they left in the summer. Although I sensed that the magazine business was seasonal, I assumed that the readers of what was then called Pictorial Life were mostly people who lived in Florida year round. I did not realize that many of those readers fled Florida in the summer, and when I noticed that nobody was home that first year, I asked veteran observers where they had gone.
“North Carolina,” came the reply. “Why North Carolina?” I asked. “The mountains,” came the reply.
I must have known there were was some uneven terrain in North Carolina – I had once visited Thomas Wolfe’s home in Asheville, where I learned there was an “e” in Asheville. But that had been in winter, years before, and I did not realize the mountains stayed year round and were actually cooler than Florida.
Those illusions disappeared with my first visit to the mountains. I hit the Blowing Rock-Boone area and Highlands-Cashiers in the same trip. My first guide was introduced to me by the late Betty Mann, at the time fashion coordinator for Saks Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. Her friend Helen Tellekamp was in real estate in Blowing Rock, and knew the territory about as well as anyone who first came there at the age of two in 1928. She was not the only one. Many people from Miami clustered annually in the same area. The same was true of Highlands-Cashiers, although most of those people came up from Broward and Palm Beach by way of Atlanta.
Helen Tellekamp over the years introduced me to many people, most who had Florida connections. It was a two-way street. Dianne Davant grew up in Blowing Rock, where her father was chief of staff of the local hospital. However, her interior design business flourished in Florida. She has an office in Stuart and her clients include the biggest of the big. Her work has been featured in our design magazines. She currently has a serious program going with Fort Lauderdale-based City Furniture.
Another Helen Tellekamp contact was Hanse Kohler, a personable, good-looking fellow who came from Pensacola and had just graduated from the University of Georgia in the early '70s. He joined Helen in her business and later started his own real estate firm. Helen has since retired, but Hanse Kohler is still going strong. That is, if you can use the word strong to describe a business that is so historically tied to Florida that the economies of the Carolina mountains and Florida might as well be one. That relationship varies from market to market. Up in Kohler’s territory the growth of North Carolina cities within an easier drive have opened up new markets for Blowing Rock.
“This is my 39th year in business,” he says. “In the first years we sold a huge amount of property to Floridians. That market still exists, and we love to see lots and lots of Florida license tags and have them buy. But the problems in Florida have slowed that business. But in the last 25 years, Charlotte, with a lot of bankers and so forth, has opened up a new market. It’s a perfect driving time for those people. It’s easy for them to come up for a weekend.“
Elsewhere, especially in the southwest corner of the state, where this is being written, Florida’s real estate problems are felt more strongly. Realtors say many people need to sell something in Florida to buy in the mountains. Some attractive properties here have been sitting on the market for two years. Stores are slow. Fishing equipment outlets in Highlands have closed.
That’s the bad news. The good news is the flip side. The weather has been magnificent, especially with reports of oppressive heat in Florida. Traffic on roads that sometimes are jammed, with cars lined up behind creeping cement trucks growling up serpentine roads, is remarkably light. With fewer customers, store personnel have never been more accommodating. Our in-laws out fly fishing spent two early morning hours on a pristine river without seeing another angler.
In that sense, Florida’s favorite summer escape has never been better. You might say a recession is a terrible thing to waste.