April 2, 2011

Landscape architects say more people investing in yards

'Staycations' helping to lead the charge

It’s a concept that gained traction almost a decade ago, in the wake of 9/11: the ‘staycation,’ the desire of homeowners to cut down on travel and instead invest in their homes. Well, area landscape architects are hearing that word again, but for different reasons, namely a lingering recession and high gas prices. In such times, they say, people are more likely to use their vacation savings on something more permanent. That’s good news for a landscaping industry starting to bloom after a couple of years in the rough.

Gas prices have been on the rise for months, with airline fares following suit. That has plenty of people on edge, from would-be vacationers who might stay home this year to the many tourism-reliant businesses in Western Mass.

But there’s a silver lining for one group — landscape architects, who are increasingly hearing that magic word ‘staycation,’ along with rumblings that homeowners might use their vacation funds this year to create a bit of an oasis at home.

“It’s not just the middle- to lower-income people; I think that applies to everyone,” said Bill St. Clair, president of St. Clair Landscaping and Nursery in Hampden. “Let’s face it, people are watching the dollars they spend, and they’re looking to get the most bang for their buck. And I see more people staying home this year, especially since they’re saying gas could hit $5 by midsummer.”

Stephen Roberts, president of Stephen A. Roberts Landscape Architecture & Construction in Springfield, is hearing the same chatter.

“Staycation is the catchphrase — stay at home and enjoy your house; have people over and entertain without the hassles of traveling. It’s huge,” he said. “We’re really focusing on that — creating a nice environment for people at home.”

The stay-at-home trend rivals what the industry saw in the years immediately following 9/11, St. Clair said, but it’s re-emerging for a different reason, namely lingering anxiety over the economy mingled with pain at the pump. These factors, he and others told BusinessWest, are persuading families to reprioritize their extra dollars, putting them toward something more permanent than a week at a resort or on a cruise.

“In the past two years, our industry has been hit as hard as some other industries,” Roberts said, specifically citing the struggles of general contractors and those involved in moving real estate.

“People aren’t purchasing new homes; they’re staying where they are and investing whatever money they have into their homes, for their personal enjoyment,” he continued. “I see that continuing to happen as long as the housing market isn’t doing much. And I see our industry benefiting from people renovating their homes and fixing them up.”
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