ANNAPOLIS - -To borrow a phrase from the world of politics, "It's the weather, stupid."
Merchants at the 38th annual United States Powerboat Show had fewer customers during its rainy weekend stand in this city's harbor. But those who turned out were serious about buying and did little complaining about the economy, the merchants said.
"I've been at this show every year since it started in 1972, and we've never had four straight days of rain," said Woody Jackson of Jackson Marine Sales in Baltimore and North East. He spoke from the bridge of one of 14 motorboats he had in the show, taking some refuge from the cold and damp.
Despite temperatures in the 40s and drilling rain, he'd sold three boats by the time the storm departed Sunday afternoon.
"Not much traffic, but the people here are serious about buying a boat," he said.
"We can't help what God dealt us," said Paul Jacobs, show manager, who reported a waiting list for spots in the show this year, even though the stock market "pretty much crashed during the show last year."
There were about 550 exhibitors at the show, a far cry from the 100 boats and one tent that made up the first powerboat show and only slightly less than the 600 vendors at last week's sailboat show.
The two shows are generally credited with bringing a total of 100,000 people to Annapolis. But the powerboat show was clearly not going to live up to its half of the bargain. The show drew only 10,000 people during its first three days. Attendance picked up Sunday as the weather improved by the time it closed at 6 p.m.
A week after a wildly successful sailboat show - held on a glorious fall weekend - there were certainly no crowd-control problems on the floating docks in Annapolis Harbor Sunday. And, miracle of miracles, you could find a place to park downtown.
"The show has been hurt from a gate standpoint," said John McCarthy of Maritimo yacht sales from onboard a 48-foot motor yacht, one of two he brought to the show. "But everyone here is committed to really looking. We've all been smiling."
The powerboat industry lost some of its manufacturers during the past year, but sales have been buoyed by discounts, incentive packages, offers of zero percent down and plenty of low-interest loans.
"People have seen that the world hasn't come to an end," said Jackson, the boat show veteran. "They might not overextend the way they have in the past, but boating is a lifestyle and people aren't going to give it up."
There was no shortage of buyers at the food court, under the awning at Pusser's and the Fleet Reserve Club. Soup, hot chocolate and Irish coffee were selling briskly. But even there, everything wasn't perfect.
"I got a tan during the sailboat show," said one waitress too shy to give her name. For this show, she was bundled up in plenty of layers.
Annapolitans Marie and Tom Lamm were among those looking to trade their powerboat for a new one. But they'd have come to the show regardless. "The show is the show," she said. "You come no matter what."
Tom Lamm expressed concern for groups such as the Optimist Club and Hospice of the Chesapeake, which make serious fundraising dollars selling food just outside the show fence, and Greene Street Elementary School, which earns money from parking cars.
"It's nice for us because there are no crowds. But this will be a tough show for them," he said.
Kelly and Steve Seely, a young couple from Columbia, are powerboat owners in the market for an upgrade, too. "We always like to look around and touch and feel," he said. "The weather wouldn't have mattered. We wait all year for this."
Caryl Weiss, who was selling plenty of official powerboat show sweat shirts from under her tent, said the weather defines the difference between sail boaters and power boaters.
"In weather like this, the sail boaters would put on their foulies [foul weather gear] and show up," she said. "The power boaters stay home, drink beer and watch football."