Pittsburgh Boat Show inspires thoughts of spring

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Tom Allen of Zelienople and his two toddlers were at the 2011 Pittsburgh Boat Show because, well, because they'd been kicked out of the house by their stir-crazy wife and mother.

Susie Nuzum, of Fairmont, W.Va., was there "to hang out" with her beau of three years, confirmed boater Jim Uhler, also of Fairmont.

Kelly Elkin, of Rural Valley, has in-laws with a boat and her parents are looking to buy. Pregnant and mother of a toddler, Ms. Elkin said the sight of all the boats in the Monroeville Convention Center was putting her "in this mind of spring. I can picture being in a boat on the Allegheny. It gets all my thoughts away from snow."

But, said vendors, there were lots of people interested in buying boats, period, during the show that ran Thursday through Sunday.

"People are here because they're buying excitement," said Phil St. Moritz, who splits residences between Jefferson Hills and Deep Creek, Md., and owns Bill's Marine Service, in Oakland, Md., which sells boats, boat motors and personal watercraft.

"We've had very good activity. I think we've inked three deals already that we've sold and we have another five or so very strong, potential customers. There's more activity this year than last year, maybe because there's a slight improvement in the economy and because people want to have fun."

Scott Terpenning, head of Dollar Bank loan center activities, had a similar observation.

"We've had three or four takers [on boat purchase loans]," he said. "It's definitely more crowded today. These are nice shoppers. They're serious shoppers or ready to buy."

There were all sorts of boats on display, ranging from big, comfy-looking pontoon boats to the beautiful wooden double-paddle canoes that Patrick Hopkins, of Mt. Lebanon, builds and sells at Village Boat Shop in Canonsburg. Mr. Hopkins had browsers but no buyers.

"I would say spring [is on their minds] but I would [also] say everyone's looking forward to the Super Bowl. It's Steeler fever. Look at all the people, what they're wearing."

Mr. Hopkins was right. It seemed like at least every other person wore some sort of Steelers regalia.

If they didn't have a Steelers shirt, they could buy one at a booth at the boat show. There were a number of non-maritime booths, including a home remodeling business, a fudge and candy booth, a dips and cheese ball booth, and a clown making balloon animals for children.

A couple volunteers from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society walked around the convention center with two dogs who needed homes.

Both the clown and the dogs were bound to come in handy for Mr. Allen, who was entertaining his 1-year-old and 3-year-old children at the order of his wife. "She told me 'Get the kids and get out of here. I need a break,' " he said, laughing.

A family member has a boat, but Mr. Allen said he spends as "little [time] as possible on it. Do you spend much time on a boat with a 1-year-old? Every now and again we go out."

Music, rather than boating, is what brought Ms. Nuzum, a widow, and Mr. Uhler, who is divorced, together, but they've both been involved with boating for a long time.

"I've been in it since '66 or '68," Mr. Uhler said. "In '74 I got my first boat, but my buddy had a boat before he got his first car."

Ms. Nuzum's father bought at old mahogany boat that the family sanded by hand and launched. "The first time they took it out, it sunk," Mr. Uhler said. He laughed; Ms. Nuzum blushed before she, too, giggled.

Mr. Uhler likes to see how much the boat prices go up from year to year and dreams of buying a new one "if I could sell mine and I could put down a pretty good chunk."

But in the meantime, there's something he likes very much about his current boat: "It's paid for."

Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.


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