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RV lovers brake for show

A retro-style teardrop-shaped trailer gets  close attention at the RV Show  at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center on Thursday. 
 (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A retro-style teardrop-shaped trailer gets close attention at the RV Show at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center on Thursday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Rising gas prices and tides of economic woe didn’t put a damper on the first day of the Inland Northwest RV Show, as crowds began showing up to case the latest deals in pleasure-mobiles.

“The show prices are about $4,000 less than the regular prices – the ones I’m looking at, anyway,” said Jim Weaver, a retired fire chief who lives in Spokane. “I had a pickup camper I’ve sold, and I’m looking for a trailer.”

The annual show opened Thursday at the Spokane Fair & Expo Center, and organizer Steve Cody said that in the first few hours, at least, attendance was strong. Weaver was among the opening-day shoppers at the show, which runs through Sunday, and said he planned to return later to make a purchase.

Cody said that’s one of the things that makes the RV show different from other trade shows – typically a couple hundred vehicles are sold over the course of the show. Though he said it’s too soon to tell, he wasn’t expecting that to slow down this year as a result of high gas prices or recent talk of a recession.

RV sales have been growing steadily for several years, according to a University of Minnesota report, including several recent years of double-digit increases.

“This year could be a little less because of the economy, but it’s not expected to be dramatically less,” Cody said.

Longer-term, the picture could be different. Doug Orr, an economics professor at EWU, said in an online chat with The Spokesman-Review this week that a recession or economic downtown is likely to take an eventual toll on the RV industry.

“When people become pessimistic about the future, the first thing they cut back on is discretionary spending,” Orr wrote in the chat. “Just the threat of a looming recession is often enough to reduce sales in an industry like the RV industry or the boat industry.”

Shoppers didn’t seem too concerned about that on Thursday, though. Some said that though gas prices are rising, it wasn’t enough to deter people who are already driving the biggest buses and spending loads of money on gas anyway. And others said that for a lot of people who use tent-trailers or campers closer to home, the price difference is noticeable but not a deal-breaker.

Brad Johnson, who was at the show with his wife and two young daughters, was considering buying an RV for family outings. He said that higher gas prices haven’t deterred him because they wouldn’t be using the trailer all that much.

“You do it so seldom,” he said. “It’s not like you’re commuting with the RV.”

Plenty of people at the show weren’t there to buy but simply to gawk – to count the number of TV players and admire the countertops in the new 40-footers. That’s what Leo Bergstresser, a retired electrician from Colbert, was up to. Bergstresser’s already got a 30-foot Allegro, and he said it’s become his way of seeing the world.

“Wherever – I’ve been to Alaska, been to the Oregon Coast, been to the Grand Canyon,” he said. “I’ve been clear to Prudhoe Bay.”