Economic tide lifts boat sales at show

Luxury: Exhibitors report more buyers among the tire-kickers, and younger customers buying bigger boats.

February 11, 2000|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Listen closely at the Inner Harbor this week and you will hear the sound of economic health. It's a siren drawing thousands to the Baltimore Convention Center and the 46th Annual Chesapeake Bay Boat Show, where new wealth buys new yachts and middle America is spending a little extra on luxury.

Open since Saturday, the show promises to be the most successful in recent history. Organizers expect attendance of more than 30,000 and more than 1,000 sales. The nearly 130 vendors are showing boats ranging from $11,000 fishing boats to $330,00 yachts through Sunday.

"It's really hot," said Dan Rea, show manager with the National Marine Manufacturers Association. "When the economy is strong, the sales are always strong."

Bradley Martin, 29, of Sykesville and his 2-year-old son, Bradley Jr., were shopping for a bigger fishing boat with his parents, Thomas and Pauline Martin of Ellicott City.

"I know plenty of people who are going to get boats who haven't had boats before," said Bradley Martin Sr. "Everyone has a little more expendable income."

Added his father: "It's one of those luxuries you wait for when the economy improves."

By midweek, several vendors said sales were ahead of last year, and some said they had already beaten last year's weeklong sales.

"Most of the time with this show you get a lot of tire-kickers, people who are interested in looking but not looking to buy," said Ron Young, salesman with Tri-State Marine of Deale. "It seems like this year there are a lot more people asking serious questions and planning to make a purchase."

Sean Hall, 30, a mechanic from Edgewood, said he has been waiting to buy a boat for seven years.

"I've just been waiting for the money situation to get right," he said.

He and his wife, Debbie, a 28-year-old nurse, decided to purchase a $32,000, 23-foot Seaswirl fishing boat just minutes after the doors of the show opened Tuesday.

"My wife just got out of school. We just refinanced the house. Everything seems to be good," Hall said.

Peter Toronto, manager of Smith Marine of Severna Park, said his midweek sales had already exceeded last year's numbers. He attributes the show's early success to buyers looking to cash in on low interest rates.

"Everybody knows that interest rates are going up, so the urgency is there to buy now," he said.

Not only are people buying, they are buying bigger.

"You have new boaters buying larger boats than one might expect," Rea said. "Everything is doing well, but the larger boats, it's phenomenal how they're doing."

Christine Pennington, manager with the Boating Center of Baltimore in Essex, said she has been impressed by the young age of buyers. Her Doral Cruisers are some of the largest and most expensive boats at the show, ranging from $52,000 to $200,000. She estimates that the average age of her customers has been about 40.

"We are selling a lot of really big boats to young people," she said. "Normally people don't have that kind of money until they're older, but a lot of young people have that kind of money now."

The boat show is open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. today, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children ages 6 to 12. Children 5 and under are admitted free.

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