MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - The Cypress Campground along the Intracoastal Waterway was a home away from home for many campers year after year.
“It was just a little getaway for us and it was just something that we could have the family come to, you know, and just a home away from home” said Constance Banther, whose memories with the campground go back years to when it was an RV park.
Those who loved it best spent around $7,000 to become lifetime members. The memberships were supposed to last for three generations.
Banther said Cypress Campground was like one big family where campers would share karaoke nights, Thanksgiving dinners and birthdays.
The families who invested in the campground dreamed of building decades worth of memories at the Socastee park. However, those dreams were abruptly ended this September, leaving campers shocked and heartbroken.
“You kind of feel betrayed and you feel like someone has stolen from you,” said Melissa Andrews, who bought into the campground back in 2015.
At the time, Andrews said they asked a lot of questions about how the membership would be protected. She said a salesperson at Cypress assured them it was a family-owned business and if anything happened, new owners would accept them as members.
Looking back she said she never would have signed the paperwork.
The campground was foreclosed on in June 2018. In January 2019, a lender, Cypress Finance, purchased the property before selling it in September to a new company, Cypress RV Campground.
Members said all that happened without them knowing.
The letters they received on Sept. 13 disclosed the change in ownership and alerted people that their memberships would no longer be honored.
“I was shocked because we had just been down for the Heritage Festival,” Andrews said. “Never knew anything was going on.”
There were more than 100 families who shared a similar story, according to former Cypress members.
Former Cypress member Mary Hardiman said it was all a “big hush thing.”
William Raber said he was staying at the campground when he received the letter telling him to leave the premise.
“This was our retirement, we sold our house. That was where we were going to stay for two weeks and then we were going to go to Fayetteville and stay up there in my daughter’s house,” explained Raber, who said he bought his membership two months before the bank foreclosed on the campground.
The letter also said it would work with members to transfer their membership to a different campground and provided members with a phone number and email.
Members told WMBF they’ve had difficulty getting answers.
“There’s nothing. There is no communication. They cut us off completely. You can’t even go over there because they won’t talk to you. The numbers that they give you don’t work,” Banther said.
WMBF Investigates reached out to the email and phone number without any luck.
A worker in the campground office didn’t give any more information than the letter. She said the new owners decided not to do a membership program and the former owners were supposed to be taking care of ending the contracts.
Later, the new owners sent a press release that stated, “Cypress RV Campground, LLC purchased Cypress Camping Resort from the lender on September 13, 2019. As part of that transaction, it was presented that memberships were with the former owner’s company and not with the land or lender.”
The new company also plans on closing the campground in December to renovate the campground. The company also said it didn’t send the letters.
The former owner, Kenneth Hucks, who said the property had been in his family for over 45 years and had hoped it would be for future generations, said he was also blindsided.
WMBF Investigates uncovered Hucks registered a new company with the state, Brenbbay LLC, in January 2019. The same company is listed as the owner of the campground on Cypress’ 2019 Horry County Business license. This comes after years of Cypress Camping Resort filing for the business license.
Over the phone, Hucks told WMBF he didn’t apply for a business license this year. He dismissed questions regarding Brenbbay and referred WMBF back to the new owners for an explanation.
In a follow-up email, he explained the new company was formed to provide management for the landowners as they determined the use of the property, but as of September it no longer provides any services.
Members did receive some of a refund, but for their annual dues not for their one-time membership cost. However, the checks were sent with a letter that stated if members cashed the check they could not involve the campground in any legal actions.
Many members said it’s not just the cancellation of the memberships but how it was communicated.
“I understand they had two hurricanes that completely decimated that park and put it under water, one in ‘17 and one in ‘18. I understand that, don’t get me wrong, but if he knew he was getting ready to do that he should have told the members,” said former member Joe Adkins.
After months of searching, members are still left considering what options they have going forward.
“It’s like you have to go to 50 places to get one bit of information and you really don’t feel like you have an advocate for you unless you go out and you spend the money on an attorney,” Andrews said.
“I’m not going to spend thousands of dollars when I’ve already lost thousands of dollars, it doesn't make sense,” Adkins said.
Consumer attorney Sid Connor said he discourages anybody from entering lifetime contracts because you run the risk of the product not being available in the future.
“If something's too good to be true, it is almost always, and if somebody wants to sell you something on a long term basis, they're gonna make money off of it and you're probably gonna lose,” Connor said.
Connor said depending on the language of the contract, new owners might have to honor the former membership but usually, this isn’t the case. He said when the case involves a foreclosure it adds another layer of complication.
“When you go through foreclosure, basically everything gets wiped out. All of the obligations that attach to the property are wiped out,” Connor explained.
He said in what he’s seen of the Cypress Campground case, the owners were blindsided and did not receive the value of what they paid for.
“It is a shame that these people, you know, paid this kind of money for something they thought would be a long-term relationship and the rug was pulled out from under them and it's not a long-term relationship,” Connor said.
Connor said, unfortunately, the reality in situations like Cypress is that consumers have to weigh how much they are willing to fight for their lost funds.
“But then the question is, who do you get your relief from? You know, if the prior owner no longer has any money there's probably not much relief there. And if the new owner buys through a foreclosure, he's probably innocent in the situation, or at least he can claim innocence,” Connor said.
Some members have moved to a new campground but said starting a new membership didn’t come free. Those who rejoined elsewhere had to pay thousands of dollars upfront.
For many, the Cypress Campground was the ideal location so transferring to another park is not financially feasible or doable.
“Seven thousand dollars means a lot, so we can’t go buy another membership for that, not anymore,” Andrews said.
Raber said he would never camp at Cypress again because of the harsh feeling left.
“Destroyed our life that we had planned out for ourselves,” Raber said of the abrupt membership cancellation.
A reality, members are trying to come to terms with as they weigh their options going forward and mourn the end of their times at Cypress Campground.
“We’re not going to camp anymore. We’ll go to the state parks or the federal parks, you know, if we want to go camping, but it’ll be a while. We’re still stung,” Banther said.