Woodstock festival's neighbors open doors to fans for a price WOODSTOCK--THE TRIP BACK

August 08, 1994|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

They are stardust, they are golden, they are prices for a good night's sleep in the Woodstock area during the coming festival weekend.

Homeowners, like nearby hotels, are hoping to cash in on the one thing the open-air festival can't provide the 150,000 concertgoers: a roof over their heads at night. Spare bedrooms or entire houses, quarters ranging from the plain to the palatial, locations just down the road from the Saugerties, N.Y., festival site or farther from the madding crowds-- they're all for rent, at a price.

"I normally charge $5,000 a month, and I was hearing people getting double and triple that," says Jake Harper, a lawyer renting out, as his classified ad in the Woodstock Times puts it: a "1720 stone colonial estate . . . screened porch, in-ground pool, tennis court & stream. Plus 2 BR guest house w/all amenities."

He had a deal to rent the home to CBS News staffers for $4,500 a week, but they backed out after deciding they wanted a place with air-conditioning. So Mr. Harper is pursuing other possible tenants, and his price is dropping as the Aug. 12-14 festival nears.

Financial killings in the local rental market appear to be mostly rumor, Mr. Harper and others say. For one thing, many festivalgoers are expected to camp out on the site itself.

Which means, residents and local merchants are grumbling, that captive audience won't be spending much money outside festival gates -- yet they'll be clogging up the roads and otherwise inconveniencing the locals before and after the event.

"I will take a real loss because I can't book voice lessons for a week to a week and a half," says Danielle Woerner, a singer who teaches in her home halfway between the towns of Woodstock and Saugerties. She's hoping to rent part of her home, with its swimming pool, mountain view and satellite dish, for about $100 a night as a way of making up income lost because students don't want to brave the expected traffic jams and road closings.

Never rented before

"I've never rented my house out before, but June and July have been deader than a doorknob, so I thought maybe I should get over my aversion to someone else coming into my house," says Ms. Woerner, a former public relations executive. "A lot of us here have no steady source of income that is not affected by the vicissitudes of the economy."

The area has been hit with hard times in recent years. In 1992 and 1993, for example, IBM, a major employer in this Hudson Valley region, unloaded a total of 8,900 workers. One economist estimated at the time that each of those unemployed workers meant an additional 1 1/2 to two jobs would disappear in the region as a result of fewer services being needed.

And many in the area are dependant on summer vacationers -- the bucolic area some 100 miles north of New York City is a magnet for escapees looking for an alternative to the Long Island beaches -- but this year some regular renters have been scared away from the area because of the anticipated mayhem of the festival, real estate agents said.

"Most people who come up for the month are not the type who would come to the festival," says Gale Brownlee, a Century 21 real estate agent in Woodstock.

"They want the peace and quiet of the country."

"The people who normally would rent in the summer didn't this year because of the festival," agrees Yvonne Sewall, a real estate agent and manager in the music industry. "So people are sitting here with unrented houses."

Ms. Sewall has been contacting various record companies and media outlets, as well as advertising in the Hollywood Reporter and Woodstock Times, looking for anyone interested in renting her clients' homes during the festival weekend. She's gotten some response but believes many of those companies have already booked up blocks of hotel rooms in the area.

Some of those hotels have drawn criticism from the New York Consumer Protection Board, which found some charging as much as eight times their usual rates. One Saugerties hotel, for example, had increased its nightly rates from the usual $30 to $250, with a three-night minimum stay. Despite such rates, 11 of the 15 hotels surveyed reported that they were fully booked for the weekend.

Asking $2,000

Private homes remain available -- and for better rates in some cases. And, some may say, for a better cause than lining corporate pockets. One woman who advertised in The Old Dutch Post Star, a Saugerties weekly, says she was asking $2,000 to rent her house, which happens to also be the figure on her property tax bill.

"I'm renovating my house now, I'm hoping to get a new kitchen out of this," says David Shahbazian, who is offering, through an ad in the Woodstock Times, a "large rustic farmhouse on main road 10 miles from concert site."

Mr. Shahbazian is emphasizing the "rustic" part -- the three rooms available are empty, so you have to bring your own sleeping bag. What do you expect for $60 per person per night?

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