Boat dealers hope to escape doldrums

February 01, 1992|By Steve McKerrow

The new producers of the Chesapeake Bay Boat Show, opening today for a nine-day stay at the Convention Center/Festival Hall, want visitors to dream a little dream in these recessionary times.

"Take a family that takes a vacation trip to California for a week or two. You come back and you've got what? A couple T-shirts and other souvenirs," says Henry Brehm of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, a trade group that purchased the Chesapeake Show from operators Jim Donahue and Ray Nichols last summer.

Ah, but spend your money on a boat, says Mr. Brehm, "and you have something you can use every weekend."

A boat, in fact, may be a good recession investment because loan interest rates are low, Mr. Brehm suggests, noting, "People need to have recreation time, some entertainment, and they are willing to spend some money on that."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is scheduled to open the 38th annual show formally at 11 a.m. today. The annual winter extravaganza is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays through Feb. 9. Admission is $7 adults, $3 for children under 12. Friday, Feb. 8 is Family Day, when children 12 and under get in free when accompanied by parents.

Beyond the usual display of hundreds of vessels (most of them motor-powered), and related accessories and services, the show includes:

*A daily schedule (except Feb. 6) of Fishing Seminars, featuring area experts Richard Novotny of the Maryland Sportfishing Association and bass pro Mark Hoos of Baltimore's Fishin' Shop.

The fish story schedule includes sessions at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and XXTC p.m. today; 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. Monday to Friday (except Thursday), 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Feb. 8 and 3 p.m. Feb. 9.

*Presentation by Boat Safe Educators of Annapolis of free seminars on a variety of topics. These are at 6 p.m. today; 1 p.m. tomorrow; 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Feb. 8; and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Feb. 9.

*On Family Day (Friday), a new boat buyers information kiosk will be in operation, offering answers to a variety of general questions about purchasing, financing and maintaining boats.

As with many other items that involve discretionary spending, the boating industry has been in the doldrums in recent years. The number of manufacturers and dealers has shrunk and boat show attendance and sales have suffered.

But Jim Ranieri, the new manager of the Chesapeake Show, says early indications are that 1992 may offer calmer waters.

"I've got a tremendous feeling in my gut that we're going to have a big show here that will trickle on down to Baltimore," Mr. Ranieri said last week from the annual Philadelphia Boat Show, also operated by the NMMA.

Formed in 1979, the trade group in recent years has been purchasing major boat shows across the country and now stages 16 a year. According to spokesman Mr. Brehm, shows earlier this year in Nashville, New York and Tampa each showed a rise in paid attendance and, "we understand from the dealers that the sales are slightly up, too."

Mr. Ranieri, however, said the Chesapeake Show this year will remain heavily oriented toward power boats, with relatively few sailboat exhibitors.

"We inherited that situation there. In the first place, there are not that many sailboat manufacturers existing anymore, plus it's really Annapolis' ballgame when it comes to sailboat buyers," said Mr. Ranieri, referring to the huge U.S. Sailboat Show held each October in Annapolis, one of the world's largest.

"We do hope to attract more interest in sail in the future," he added.

One local exhibitor of the smallest of sailing vessels, Hal Ashman of Baltimore Boardsailing, agreed the Annapolis show discourages sail dealers from spending much effort to exhibit in the winter in Baltimore.

However, he pointed out that his marketing ploy is to contend that sailboards, the stand-up sailing vessels that grew from the marriage of a sail with a surfboard, are about the least expensive way to get into boating. With no gasoline, marina, trailer or other costs, a person can be board-sailing for less than $1,000, he says.

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