A steady downpour pelted the U.S. Powerboat Show as it opened Thursday, but people lined up anyway. To Fred Quimby, the people out on thegray, blustery day were a pretty sight.
"These were serious buyers. People were just jammed in there," said Quimby, owner of Fred Quimby's Marine Services in Easton, who brought 11 boats and eight salespeople to the Annapolis show.
He was soon to find out just how serious these potential buyers were.
Despite a recession and federal luxury tax that have threatened to sink the boating industry, marine trades businessmen were encouraged by deals they struck and interest they saw the past two weekends during annual sailboat and powerboat shows.
"We saw a definite improvement this year over last year," said Nancy Cann, president of Crusader Yacht Sales, which sold more boats during the U.S. Sailboat Show the weekend of Oct. 11 than it has so far all year. "The economy in general is a lot more positive. People are feeling more upbeat, that the worst is over and that they can do what they want to do."
Quimby, who has increased his sales of power fishing boats by 30 percent over last year, left the show with a few sales contracts and plenty of leads.
Most of his boats fall below the $100,000 mark and arenot subject to the 10 percent luxury tax on boats of more than $100,000,which took effect this year.
"People still have money," he said. "The ones who aren't losing their jobs don't mind spending. They were holding on to (their money) to see what would happen."
JeffreyHolland, spokesman for the shows, reported a slight increase in attendance over the past few years. Combined, the shows usually draw at least 80,000 people to the state capital, making this time of year thebusiest for local restaurants.
Most hotels, motels, historic innsand bed and breakfasts in and around Annapolis sold out both boat show weekends or booked at least 90 to 95 percent of their rooms, said Lou Ramsay, owner of the Annapolis-based Maryland Reservation Center.
"We kept up-to-date, hour-by-hour checks and if something opened up, we booked it," Ramsay said.
In fact, she said the supply of guests spilled over east of the Bay Bridge, toward Washington and northof Annapolis, all the way to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
"The fact that attendance is moving upward is a very encouraging statistic," Holland said.
The number of sailboats on display dropped by only eight this year, to 157. That number hadpeaked in 1986, when nearly 500 boats were displayed.
The number of power boats told a more dismal story. After a 1989 peak of 486 power boats, the number this year fell to 256, down from 325 last year.
"That's a pretty fair indication of the affect of the economy and the luxury tax on the boating industry," Holland said.
The new tax has forced some marine companies to rechannel their business or look for new markets, as has been the case for Coastal Navigation Inc. of Annapolis, which sells navigation, communication and safety equipment.
These days, Coastal's customers are sailors or power boat owners who want to upgrade a boat they already own.
Because so many people want to fixup their boats, Coastal did a brisk business at the show.