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Desperate for a swimming pool in hot, pandemic times, Tampa Bay? Good luck

Stuck at home, we're looking for pools: fancy in-grounds, above-grounds, inflatables, even those plastic kiddie versions. Problem is, so is everyone else.

Thinking it might be nice in these hot, boring, unsettled times to cool down in your own backyard pool?

Maybe a fancy in-ground version with lots of lush landscaping? A simpler and cheaper above-ground pool? Perhaps one of those inflatables big enough for the whole family, or even a plastic kiddie pool so you can at least soak your toes?

You and everyone else.

Here’s another unexpected side effect of the coronavirus crisis that continues to turn the world upside down: We aren’t summer vacationing or going to public pools like before. Kids are home and everyone’s restless. And backyard pools have become a precious commodity.

A pool in Chile billed as the world's largest swimming pool. Wouldn't this be nice right about now?
A pool in Chile billed as the world's largest swimming pool. Wouldn't this be nice right about now?

“The phone started ringing once COVID hit,” said Robyn Walton at the family-owned Tampa Pool, an above-ground installer. “They’ll say, ‘We’re home, my kids are going crazy, I need something for them to do. They can’t go to the park, they can’t play with their friends. They’re going crazy, I’m going crazy.’”

In normal busy times, they could get the job scheduled and done in weeks.

“I’m booking right now in October,” Walton said, though she has managed to get a pool done in time for a children’s birthday party.

“It’s been nuts,” said Jim Carr, owner of Mr. Pools Inc., a 55-year-old Pinellas Park business that does above-ground and in-ground pools.

“The problem is, we can’t get any more inventory from the manufacturer,” he said. “The manufacturer can’t get more because of the coronavirus.” These days, he even gets calls from dealers across the country trying to buy pools to take back to Pennsylvania, Chicago and North Carolina.

“It hasn’t been this busy since 2006, just before the crunch hit,” Carr said.

One pool business reported to the national Pool & Hot Tub Alliance that instead of the 150 calls they typically get weekly this time of year, they were fielding 750 calls a week at the beginning of the summer.

The COVID-19 crisis has likely affected manufacturing capabilities for some companies, according to the alliance, followed by the surge in demand.

“Very unprecedented times,” said Sabeena Hickman, the alliance’s president and CEO. “Very high demand. There’s some challenges with the supply chain. They can’t keep up with the demand.”

In a typical year, it takes eight to 12 weeks for a below-ground pool.

“Our members are saying they’ve got things booked into next year,” Hickman said.

Meanwhile, the Better Business Bureau warns that “as trustworthy companies run low on stock, consumers are more likely to turn to suspicious websites” to find above-ground pools.

Some tips to avoid scammers:

  • Beware of prices that seem too good to be true.
  • Confirm a company’s physical address.
  • And check out for trustworthy companies.

And here’s an interesting business twist: A company called Swimply lists pools available for rent at private homes, Airbnb-style, also known as “pool sharing.” Locally, the site shows pools from Brooksville to Carrollwood to Belleaire Beach, with prices ranging from $30 to $60 an hour.

The pull of pools in the time of coronavirus is not just a Tampa Bay thing. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a man who set up an 18-foot pool curbside in prime parking space outside a Manhattan apartment building. Other New Yorkers have been putting pools on rooftops and balconies.

In Pittsburgh, the Swiderski family went with a stock tank pool — one made from those big containers that previously provided drinking water to horses, cattle and other livestock.

“It’s a whole big thing on Pinterest,” said Julie Swiderski, an elementary school assistant principal. The family was tired of being home and really wanted a pool, and they found their tank at a Tractor Supply Co. store.

Ross Swiderski of Pittsburgh relaxes in the cattle watering station converted into a pool for the family during the pandemic.
Ross Swiderski of Pittsburgh relaxes in the cattle watering station converted into a pool for the family during the pandemic. [ Courtesy of Julie Swiderski ]

“We have two daughters — we actually did fit all four of us in there,” she said. “We use it a lot ... even if it’s just in the afternoon, and I’m sitting on the side and reading for work, I put my feet in it.”

The search for pools has had local consumers on the hunt, with some reporting success online. A survey of Tampa Walmart stores this week showed plastic kiddie pools available.

Kiddie pools at Walmart this week.
Kiddie pools at Walmart this week. [ SUE CARLTON | Times ]

In St. Petersburg, Megan McGee started looking for an above-ground pool over spring break to use with her two children and her fiancee.

She hit five or six of the big stores with no luck. At one, someone told her which day they got deliveries — “kind of like this covert ‘meet us in the back and you’ll get one,’” she said. At last, she scored at Big Lots.

She initially was dubious about an above-ground pool. Now it’s a little bit of a silver lining to what the last few months have wrought.

“There’s been a few nights where at the end of the workday we get in the pool on our floats, and we don’t really do anything,” she said. “We sit on our floats in cool water, and it’s lovely.”

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