SHORE THING: On AQUA, and Business in Cape Charles

Cape Charles Wave

December 19, 2012

According to the Bay Creek website, AQUA Restaurant will close Friday night, December 21, (moved up a day from the original announcement).

According to the Trustees’ Sale notice, the following property will be offered at public auction at 11:30 a.m. Friday, December 28, at the County Courthouse: the restaurant building, the Marina Shops building, the Pierhouse building, the marina boat slips, all Villa condominiums, and various common areas and parking lots. (For the complete list, click here.)

According to the notice, the properties will all be sold together, with the exception of two residential lots. So if you want the restaurant, you have to buy the marina and the shops too.

According to County records, Bay Creek obtained a bank line of credit in July 2004 on the above properties in the amount of $11.5 million.

According to Bay Creek developer Dickie Foster, as quoted in the Eastern Shore News, “There are going to be a lot of bidders.”

Which begs the question: spun-off from their developer, are the restaurant, marina, and shops sustainable? Can they earn enough to cover operating expenses, including mortgage, taxes, and principal payments?

That’s a tough go for most businesses, and it’s especially tricky on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where the tourism season is short and tourist numbers are relatively small.

As the town’s newest business, the Wave attended last month’s annual meeting of the Cape Charles Business Association. The good news: merchant after merchant reported last summer as the best in memory. Cape Charles is in renaissance, and tourists increasingly are discovering it.


The bad news? The town fails to interest the 13-21 age group, who (unless they love to fish) are bored stiff. Someone mentioned that we now have jet skis for rent, but someone else noted that you have to have a license to operate them. Someone else suggested opening a pool hall, which went over like the proverbial lead balloon.

It was interesting to note how many members run seasonal businesses – starting with Association President Dave Burden (SouthEast Expeditions), and including Malcolm (Eastern Shore Custom Carts), Miriam (Brown Dog Ice Cream), Mike & Jon (Shanty), Ned (Hotel Cape Charles), Tammy (Bay Haven), and Kelly (Gingernut Pub).

Most of those businesses are closed for the season.

My conclusion (and certainly my own experience) is that you don’t come to Cape Charles to get rich. You come here (or you stay here) because you love the Shore. If you’re lucky you have a supplementary income, allowing you to pursue your business almost as a hobby.

Kind of like the old joke about the first requirement for being an author: have a spouse with a job.

A lot of folks who visit Cape Charles yearn to live here and somehow support themselves. Some come and start new ventures, but the track record is unfortunately not too great. Even if you do everything right, there’s just not much business in the off-season.

My own experience is with a vacation rental house. We were booked solid in June, July, and August, and made a lot of money. But Labor Day fell like an iron curtain. Thereafter, weekend rentals trickled in through Thanksgiving, after which we were staring at an empty calendar and high heating bills.

Not complaining – that’s the nature of seasonal rentals. But I’m glad we don’t depend on the business to feed the family.

So – back to AQUA, and the marina, and the shops. Maybe a buyer will come along with deep pockets and want to run the business out of love for the Shore. We heard a rumor that a professional football player may be interested.


And maybe there’s an object lesson here both for the deep pockets and for the rest of us: Cape Charles is for lovers – Eastern Shore lovers. Remember the old expression “for love or money?”

Forget about the money.

SHORE THING is an occasional feature of the Cape Charles Wave.



10 Responses to “SHORE THING: On AQUA, and Business in Cape Charles”

  1. Bruce Lindeman on December 19th, 2012 7:49 am

    I hope that a buyer comes along who wants to invest in that property and promote it in a way that the previous owner didn’t. The restaurant seemed underutilized. Kelly’s blew Aqua away on the after-dinner scene. Aqua did, by all accounts, a good summer wedding business, so that’s a plus. Bu on the weekds, yet Kelly’s lacks the floor or outdoor space to really host larger events, it’s such a great spot for outdoor summer events that it seems like it should be better utilized.

    Not this past summer but the summer before, I believe, they hosted a fun evening or two at the end of the Marina with Heather and Nathan playing/singing. It was a perfect place and night for such an event. Very casual and light. Again, a great venue for those kinds of activities. More of those would be awesome!

    Evening clam bakes down on the beach there. When’s the last time anyone has been to a clam bake down on a beach? And, we’re known for our oysters and clams! How fun would that be?!

    More fishing tournaments, concerts, bands, dinner events, cook-offs (like the chowder cook-off), etc. Get some more local artisans to rent shops but don’t gouge them. Get Thelma back there and others. But, don’t go ultra high-end with the shops. Keep them affordable.

    Slap a coat of paint on everything. Aqua is beginning to show it’s age some. And, promote the place! It’s not just for boaters, but for visitors to the area as well. And, bring them in to the Town conversation. It’s not an us/them conversation but a we conversation. Let’s figure out a way for this to be a win/win for both the Town, the Harbor, AND the Marina. We can all compete, but co-exist and succeed if everyone has the same goal in mind.

    Anyway, I’ve got my fingers crossed and am hoping for the best.

  2. Ann Turner on December 19th, 2012 3:32 pm

    What is the problem with you business folks down in Cape Charles? You have a great tourism economy—sounds like most of you had a great summer. Except for the Bay Creek businesses—maybe because the rest of you didn’t load up on easy debt.

    So close up now or go to winter hours. Get yourselves ready for next year. Stay open next summer seven days a week—stay open late on the weekends. You’ve got grown-ups wandering around town looking to spend money every day. Manage your summer income wisely and enjoy what you’ve got.

    It also wouldn’t hurt to do a little more marketing for your great little town. Get those Richmond tourism people to help you—they do a great job for Chincoteague.

    Good luck

  3. Ettore Zuccarino on December 19th, 2012 3:56 pm

    Good article Mr. Editor! And right on the nail’s head. So, now what? Where to from here and now? I am convinced that most of us “come-here” have a pretty good idea as to why things are the way they are. They could certainly be changed, but the “locals” do not want that as perhaps most of the “non-locals” as well. Point is: we all came here for the pristine beauty, the peace and simplicity of the Shore life. That’s what appealed to us didn’t it? So, perhaps the Shore is right to be just the way it is. I have heard it said more than once: if you do not like it here, go back to where you came from.
    Which pretty much sums it up.

  4. Stephen K. Fox on December 20th, 2012 9:38 am

    For once I agree with you. Add this ingredient—Cape Charles and the County desperately need to engage an economic developer to bring jobs to the Shore for those of working age. Good, steady jobs will pump money into the economy and provide sustenance for businesses when the tourism season has ended. In that way, local businesses are not totally dependent upon the tourism dollar.

  5. Mike Kuzma, Jr on December 20th, 2012 11:19 am

    Wow. Wow.
    “If you do not like it here, go back to where you came from.”

  6. Mike Kuzma, Jr on December 20th, 2012 2:55 pm

    Government does NOT create jobs, Government can only get out of the way of jobs being created.

    Or stand in the way. Standing in the way seems to be the new normal now, though.

  7. Anthony Sacco on December 21st, 2012 11:21 am

    To preserve the rural character here? Are you kidding? 80% are poor . . . people are leaving, poor retired make up the taxes. The conservation or conservative groups caused the downfall of Northampton County: poor leadership, talented people leave, very high-price, poor-quality construction, no fish in the bay.

    And we have a deep-water port, a major highway, a railroad, and an airport. So why are we not the richest county in Virginia? Simple — corrupt leadership.

  8. Tom Macner on December 21st, 2012 12:22 pm

    I have often said that the Eastern Shore could be compared to Eastern Long Island in the ’50s and ’60s. The composite makeup of Eastern LI back then was potato fields, some very nice beaches, harbors and undiscovered prime property. The discovery and transformation of one of the premier geographies on the planet is now obvious to all that live close to the metro area and well beyond. Wineries, quaint towns, the water, premier restaurants, boating, fine food, bountiful farm stands and expensive property are now the norm. This area is very seasonal also but the area seems to be thriving and growing every year. No one seems to be complaining unless you are stuck in traffic in the season. The proximity to NY City certainly helps!
    Perhaps there is some momentum for the Eastern Shore towards a fraction of this vision, perhaps not. However I can assure you that the people that owned property “out east” back in the day are very wealthy now. It also happens to be a mecca for young people.
    Perhaps a case study of this Eastern LI transformation would help.

  9. Tammy Holloway on December 21st, 2012 1:15 pm

    An important note of clarification. The Bay Haven Inn of Cape Charles is indeed open for business year-’round; in fact we have a full house a few days next week! We welcome guests no matter the time of year and encourage them to visit all of our towns’ wonderful businesses and enjoy our delightful town. If you would kindly clarify this misrepresentation, as a new business saying we are not open doesn’t really help!
    Much Appreciated,
    Tammy & Jim Holloway
    Inn Keepers, Bay Haven Inn of Cape Charles

    GEORGE RESPONDS: Congratulations to Tammy & Jim on Bay Haven Inn’s recent opening, as noted in the WAVE December 1 at the end of a lengthy photo caption which may be read by clicking here. By referring to Bay Haven Inn, Kelly’s Gingernut Pub, and other businesses (including my own vacation rental business) as “seasonal,” I did not mean to create the impression that they were closed for the season — only that their business is heavily influenced by tourists, and thus can expected to be much less during the off season. In the next paragraph I did note that MOST of the seasonal businesses previously referred to are closed for the season. For the record, my own rental business is open year-’round as well, and we also have guests staying for the holidays!

  10. Mike Kuzma, Jr on December 21st, 2012 1:19 pm

    Mr. Sacco, the conservationists and conservatives are two totally separate ideologies that do not complement each other.

    I will not comment on the corruption of the government down there; I am only a “come-here.” I will say that the wealthiest county in Virginia is Fairfax, which is made up totally of Government employees/contractors/lobbyists.