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Pandemic plush: 6 luxuries people are spending big bucks on during COVID-19

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 10/16/2020 By Rod Stafford Hagwood, South Florida Sun Sentinel
a brown leather couch in a room: Jeff Olefson, who lives in the Las Olas River House condos, had his bedrooms and bathrooms redone by Allied Kitchen & Bath recently. © because of COVID-19]\" says Noam Ziv, executive director. \"I've heard stories about bankers and len... Jeff Olefson, who lives in the Las Olas River House condos, had his bedrooms and bathrooms redone by Allied Kitchen & Bath recently.

If retail therapy is a remedy for the coronavirus, then some South Floridians must be close to a cure.

Those with lots of disposable income have been going on a major spending spree for sports cars, fancy watches, country club memberships and home upgrades.

Even as unemployment numbers rise, the stock market has been very good for others, and they are indulging.

“People are treating themselves because instead of going on a trip. They wanted a memorable piece of jewelry that could make up for that trip. They’re coming in to treat themselves to a little ‘me’ time," says Ann Marie Dunn from J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point.

At the Arsenale in the Miami Design District — where entertainers, royalty and trust funders shop — sales went through the roof in September.

a room filled with furniture and a table: Boyd Taylor started solar-powered Serenity Yachts company with his environment attorney wife, Elizabeth, back in 2016. "Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the desire for a getaway has had a significant effect and our natural resources are great for the recreational activities," Taylor says. The Serenity 64 costs $3.3 million and is docked in Fort Lauderdale when it’s not hurricane season. © because of COVID-19]\" says Noam Ziv, executive director. \"I've heard stories about bankers and len... Boyd Taylor started solar-powered Serenity Yachts company with his environment attorney wife, Elizabeth, back in 2016. "Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the desire for a getaway has had a significant effect and our natural resources are great for the recreational activities," Taylor says. The Serenity 64 costs $3.3 million and is docked in Fort Lauderdale when it’s not hurricane season.

“We went from no traffic to our best month ever,” says Pat Meignan, the CEO and founder. “Our merch is everything from $80 for hoodies, T-shirts and caps to $2 million for a submarine.”

Meignan recently sold rap artist Lil Pump a Gucci bike for around $25,000. “Lil Pump’s manager, he’s calling me at 9 a.m. saying he wants a Gucci bike,” Meignan recalls. “Lil Pump was so happy. He was like a kid who has everything.”

A week later Meignan says they sold several boats, each costing seven figures, to Arab royalty.

Even commoners are feeling a little luxe these days.

“They feel that they deserve a little boost,” explains Dr. Raquel Bild-Libbin, a psychologist in Miami Beach. “They need to be rewarded for all the sacrifices that they are making at this time.”

a living room filled with furniture and a large window: A rendering of a residence great room at The Alina in Boca Raton where homes go for $900,000 to $6 million. \"A lot of people from Northeast fled down here [because of COVID-19]\" says Noam Ziv, executive director. \"I've heard stories about bankers and lenders that took the family down here. They either rented a place or stayed with in-laws or parents. Some decided to stay longer and now they want a home.\" © because of COVID-19]\" says Noam Ziv, executive director. \"I've heard stories about bankers and len... A rendering of a residence great room at The Alina in Boca Raton where homes go for $900,000 to $6 million. \"A lot of people from Northeast fled down here [because of COVID-19]\" says Noam Ziv, executive director. \"I've heard stories about bankers and lenders that took the family down here. They either rented a place or stayed with in-laws or parents. Some decided to stay longer and now they want a home.\"

William Luther, an assistant professor in Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business, says that, counter-intuitively, even people of modest incomes may have come out better financially, at least in the short run.

a person sitting on a chair in front of a window: Instead of going on vacation Karen and Dean Rogers of Margate had an outdoor kitchen and their backyard refurbished by Pool and Patio Depot. © Carline Jean / South Florida Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Instead of going on vacation Karen and Dean Rogers of Margate had an outdoor kitchen and their backyard refurbished by Pool and Patio Depot.

“Low income households benefited from many of the programs [such as] unemployment benefits and getting stimulus checks, all at the same time,” says Luther, an expert on business cycles.

So, no matter the size of the bank account, people want to indulge.

“With wealthy people ... they rationalize [spending] as they are helping the economy with these purchases, that they are helping other people,” she says. “And for some people ... that have actually been able to save money because they are not spending it on all the other things that they normally spend money on ... now we have more disposable income to do some activities or projects that are within our means.

"I think those are important words to use: within our means. For some it’s dinner at home with family. For others it’s buying a boat.”

For those with the means, here’s what they seem to be spending big bucks on during this pandemic.

a small boat in a large body of water: The Serenity 64 offers 65 square meters of solar panels and can cruise indefinitely at 4-6 knots while still providing power to one’s onboard amenities. The vessel features a combined galley and saloon on main deck, four VIP cabins (each with their own en-suite bathroom), one crew cabin and a hydraulic flybridge. Other layouts are available. A brand new, fully outfitted Serenity 64 costs $3.3 million. © Serenity Yachts / Courtesy/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS The Serenity 64 offers 65 square meters of solar panels and can cruise indefinitely at 4-6 knots while still providing power to one’s onboard amenities. The vessel features a combined galley and saloon on main deck, four VIP cabins (each with their own en-suite bathroom), one crew cabin and a hydraulic flybridge. Other layouts are available. A brand new, fully outfitted Serenity 64 costs $3.3 million.

Jewelry: Nothing cooler than ice

When it comes to fine jewelry, it’s going to take much more than a global shutdown to stop some buyers.

“One of our longtime clients was looking for something really special to celebrate his wife’s birthday right in the middle of the lockdown,” says Sean Dunn of J.R. Dunn Jewelers. "He surprised her with the most incredible Rolex Pearlmaster covered in diamonds. She couldn’t have been happier. "

Rolexes have been moving quickly for Keno Brothers Jewelers in Fort Lauderdale.

“July was better than the year before, believe it or not, which was astonishing to us,” says Brian Keno, who co-owns the business with his brother Bruce. They’ve noticed a lot more internet traffic for estate jewelry and timepieces — “high ticket items,” especially Rolex watches.

“I would say at least a 10-15% increase, on the modest side,” says Brian Keno, “We’ve always been known for our pre-owned Rolexes, a $10,000 Rolex for $8,000.”

Keno adds that a lot of the customers are new to their business.

But Mark Silver of Argenti Designer Jewelers in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea says his business during the height of the pandemic was about the same as last year, mostly because Europeans were not able to travel to South Florida. He’s wondering what the holiday and winter tourist season will bring. Just in case, he’s focusing on his online business and stocking up.

a person posing for the camera: Rita Case of Rick Case Maserati in Weston with the debut of the new Maserati MC20 super car on Wednesday, Oct. 14. Case said that their appointments were booked through the evening with buffs wanting to check out the luxury sports car that retails for around $200,000, \"Depending on how you custom build it,\" explains Case. \"Each car will be custom built to the order of the customer. This is the introduction of Maserati back into racing … after a 20-year hiatus. It’s a production model that you can buy.\" © Carline Jean / South Florida Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Rita Case of Rick Case Maserati in Weston with the debut of the new Maserati MC20 super car on Wednesday, Oct. 14. Case said that their appointments were booked through the evening with buffs wanting to check out the luxury sports car that retails for around $200,000, \"Depending on how you custom build it,\" explains Case. \"Each car will be custom built to the order of the customer. This is the introduction of Maserati back into racing … after a 20-year hiatus. It’s a production model that you can buy.\"

“One theory I have is due to the inability to go on cruises, many from up north will come to South Florida to warm up,” Silver says in an email.

Country clubs: Plenty of room for puttin' around

Golf, excluding the cart, is a natural for social distancing. And some country clubs in South Florida that are seeing a surge in memberships link that to their links

“The sport of golf is booming,” says Michael O’Brien, general manager of the Fort Lauderdale Country Club. “The game of golf across the board is up in our case 20%, but it’s up everywhere. Outdoor activities and being in the sun is safer than not. Golf, like a hand in glove, fits that description."

Summertime is usually slow, with maybe 25-30 new members and that would be a “struggle,” O’Brien says. This summer, the country club sold 107 memberships at $3,000 for six months.

Over at the recently rebranded Boca Lago Golf and Country Club, new owners put in $11 million to refurbish the property and $8 million to upgrade the three 9-hole golf courses. When Palm Beach County golf courses reopened on April 30, with all kinds of protocols, “We had an influx of people,” recalls John Stampfl, managing director of member sales and golf operations. “I saw more guests coming into the club. I know the uptick in my rounds have probably increased by 30%. My memberships, I would say I little over doubled my memberships. I am getting a lot of people under 45.”

a group of people on a field: Boca Lago Golf & Country Club has recently finished an $11 million makeover. Membership doubled during the height of the pandemic. To draw in all age demographics, there were also Junior PGA events, after-work games for young professionals and seniors tournaments. © Boca Lago Golf Country Club / Courtesy/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Boca Lago Golf & Country Club has recently finished an $11 million makeover. Membership doubled during the height of the pandemic. To draw in all age demographics, there were also Junior PGA events, after-work games for young professionals and seniors tournaments.

Initiation fees are $2,000-$6,000. Dues are $395-$875 a month.

a close up of a watch: The Rolex Pearlmaster 39 from J.R. Dunn in Lighthouse Point. © Rolex / Courtesy/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS The Rolex Pearlmaster 39 from J.R. Dunn in Lighthouse Point.

“A lot of people are coming in as guests of their friends who are members and then they get a membership,” Stampfl adds. “I think that is working out pretty well.”

Sports cars: Sales go vroom

a man standing in front of a building: Karen and Dean Rogers of Margate had an outdoor kitchen and their backyard refurbished by Pool and Patio Depot. \"We decided we’re not to going to travel, so instead of traveling we put the money into a grill island and finalize [the redesigned backyard],\" says Dean. © Carline Jean / South Florida Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Karen and Dean Rogers of Margate had an outdoor kitchen and their backyard refurbished by Pool and Patio Depot. \"We decided we’re not to going to travel, so instead of traveling we put the money into a grill island and finalize [the redesigned backyard],\" says Dean.

When it comes to sales, Rick Case Maserati had a great summer.

“We are seeing an uptick, definitely,” says Raquel Case, director of the Rick Case Automotive Group. “We had a great July kicking off an amazing August.”

She thinks there may be two factors driving sales of Maseratis, which start around $70,000 and go up to $90,000.

“Maybe it’s...people saying I want to get out here and buy that car I always wanted. They need some stimulation in their life and Maserati is exactly what that is. The way it handles, the sight, the sound and the feeling — it appeals to all the senses. People really need an uplifting at this time. It also could be that they were planning on buying one in March, April or May and couldn’t because they didn’t feel comfortable going out."

a man standing next to a bicycle: Hip hop star Lil Pump bought a $25,000 Gucci bicycle from The Arsenale Miami, described by fans as where James Bond would go to shop. At the height of the pandemic, the Miami location had one of its best months. Other than the Miami Design District store, there are Arsenales in Hong Kong, Paris and Macau. © The Arsenale Miami / Courtesy/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Hip hop star Lil Pump bought a $25,000 Gucci bicycle from The Arsenale Miami, described by fans as where James Bond would go to shop. At the height of the pandemic, the Miami location had one of its best months. Other than the Miami Design District store, there are Arsenales in Hong Kong, Paris and Macau.

Plastic surgery: Cosmetic procedures get a lift

With hospitals cancelling all elective surgeries at the start of the pandemic, plastic surgeons in South Florida, who usually stay busy all year, suddenly found themselves with a sort of unplanned vacation.

“Even during the height of the pandemic people were emailing us,” recalls Dr. Jacob Steiger, whose Steiger Plastic Surgery Center in Boca Raton reopened in May. “There was an explosion in demand, pent up demand. We’ve been operating every Saturday since May. We’re doing surgeries on Saturdays just to keep up with it."

Steiger estimates he’s seeing at least a 20% increase for surgical procedures. Rhinoplasty runs around $10,000 while an eye lift will cost between $8,000-$10,000. Face lifts start at $15,000 and go up from there.

Steiger wasn’t the only plastic surgeon to see an immediate increase of interest as soon as Florida and CDC guidelines would allow elective surgeries to resume.

“You expect there’s going to be a lull,” recalls Dr. Adam Rubenstein. “You expect it to take a few weeks to ramp back up and get busy. I was pleasantly surprised to find that people were raring to go.”

Rubenstein, chief of plastic surgery and vice chief of the department of surgery for Jackson North Medical Center in Miami, says that not only did potential patients have more time, but some had more money since they weren’t traveling, dining out or attending entertainment events.

“That’s a real thing,” he says. “They’re not spending as much, or rather, the spending has shifted.”

Rubinstein’s “Mommy Makeovers” run about $9,500-$25,000 while “Daddy Do-Overs” cost around $6,500-$25,000. Some of the state-of-the-art procedures that people are having done cost:

CoolSculpting - A fat freezing procedure for $1,500-$3,000.

Renuvion - Helium plasma and radiofrequency energy used to tighten skin, erase brown spots, diminish the appearance of damaged skin, remove fine lines/wrinkles and tighten loose skin for $1,999-$3,999.

EmSculpt - A non-invasive butt lift using electromagnetic technology for $3,000-$4,500.

And, in a way, COVID-19 has made procedures easier to camouflage.

“Most of the recovery time for the procedures that I perform requires social down time,” explains Steiger. “Now that many are working from home or have cleared out their social calendar, they figure it’s the perfect time to have the procedures that they’ve always wanted done. And some celebrities are not working right now. They’re not filming. We’ve seen that the last few weeks.”

Yachts: Shipping out in style

Serenity Yachts, which charters a fleet of electric and solar-powered vacation vessels, has seen a rise in interest from both national and European markets.

“I could easily say that the calls and emails have doubled,” says executive director Boyd Taylor.

A brand new, fully outfitted Serenity 64 model with all the latest bells and whistles in navigation and entertainment technology costs around $3.3 million.

Over at Eclipse Yacht Furnishing, CEO Joy Hutchinson says that business has been good, though she declines to give any figures.

“Yacht owners are definitely spending more time on board, in their own private world,” she says in an email. “We’ve worked on more than 40 boats this summer. We foresee an even busier fall when people who are now in the Mediterranean come back here on their way to the Caribbean.”

Home improvement: Putting props into property

During the shutdown, lots of South Floridians began thinking that home sweet home could be a little sweeter.

“That $50,000 trip to Mykonos with their family, well that got canceled,” says David Fine, vice president at Judith Norman showroom in Hollywood. “A lot of people, say, in New York, have a condo here and maybe a condo there. They are dumping that condo and getting a house. We’re seeing a lot of that. And they are getting sick of staying home and looking at the same things."

The family-owned furniture, lighting and accessories company has been busy with new home buyers who are redecorating. "June, July, August is always busy,” Fine says. “They want everything in for the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas. It’s usually a busy quarter. But even though there was the pandemic, this June was as good, if not better, than June last year.”

At the new luxury condo The Alina, which bills itself as “a lush residential retreat” in Boca Raton, director Noam Ziv says, “We’re selling the larger and more expensive units.”

Five of those larger units were snapped up for over $4 million each during the height of the pandemic.

“All of that happened off-season, which makes it a bigger story,” Ziv explains. “Locals...are spending more time in their homes and they are realizing they need larger spaces. They need more room to have a home office, or room for the kids or grandkids to stay when they come down here. Right now, most of the buyers are mostly local."

And some who are contented with their home are considering making some changes nonetheless.

“We’re in the high-end redecorating market,” explains Bill Feinberg, president of Allied Kitchen and Bath in Oakland Park. “For a lot of people, this is their second and third home. We’re getting a lot of clients spending so much more time at home and saying to us, ‘We’re using our kitchen much more than we’ve ever used it before.' "

Small kitchen upgrades with pre-assembled, ready-made islands cost $10,000-$15,000 while a major built-in kitchen could cost $50,000-$100,000.

Jeff Olefson’s primary home is a penthouse at the Las Olas River House in Fort Lauderdale. He decided to get all the bathrooms redone to make visits from his two college-age daughters and son more comfortable.

Allied Kitchen and Bath had started work on the master bathroom and “soon as demo started for the others, COVID hit,” Olefson says. “Plastic sheets were up all over the place. It was very tough to live in here for three months when no work was getting done and the place was just a mess.”

Tired of sleeping on the living room couch or on blow-up mattresses, they decamped for a while to a second home in Key Largo that Olefson usually rents out.

“I was eager to get this done, so I could start living back here because, you know, you don’t want to be in the house when there’s that much construction," he says. "But there’s no place to go because of COVID.”

But it wasn’t all bad.

“I got to spend an additional, like, three or four months with my kids who are off at college,” recalls Olefson. “They came home. I thought we’d never spend that time together. That was great because you couldn’t go out. I mean you cook all the meals pretty much here. And that was fine. [We’ve] not been able to travel. Usually we go on lots of trips, but we haven’t been able to do that.”

And this being South Florida, some people are looking to give their backyard pool/patio areas and outdoor grill spaces a major makeover. That’s what they’re seeing at Pool and Patio Depot, with locations in Pompano Beach and Greenacres.

“Our sales are up 40%,” estimates Catherine Rathé, vice president of operations. “We’re really blessed to see the numbers we have the last five months. The last two months have been absolutely crazy for us.”

Karen and Dean Rogers had already worked with designers at Pool and Patio Depot last year in redoing their pool deck and shade structures.

“The pandemic and everything that went down with it solidified the idea that we’re not going on vacation,” explains Dean. “So we decided to use the money to put into the grill island, which my wife always wanted.”

Things are looking up for Beltempo in Davie, an outdoor furniture and accessories showroom that opened last summer. Marco Sangiorgi, the CEO, says the customized furniture sector remains strong. And now he predicts the retail business will pick up as Northerners return and look at their back yard and pool areas through a different filter.

“Maybe the patio furniture has been under the rain for some time,” he says. “Their outdoor furniture is going rusty or not looking so good.”

At Beltempo outdoor chairs cost $1,000-$14,000, dining tables run $2,000-$8,000 and sofas start at $3,000 and go up to $6,800. Made-to-order pieces are considerably pricier.

Says Sangiorgi: “People are now more interested in things that can last a long time.”

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©2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

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