From the bow of a 37-foot luxury cruise boat complete with leather seats, two flat-screen televisions, a full-size shower and a bed, Angela Moses’ grin spread wide.
From the stern, and closer to the vessel’s $399,000 price tag, her boyfriend, David Fish, wore a slightly different expression.
“I’m dreaming, and I’m letting my girl dream a little,” Fish said.
The Spokane couple were among hundreds of people who flocked to the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center on Saturday for the 55th annual Spokane National Boat Show.
Sponsored by the Spokane Yacht Club, the theme for this year’s event is “Invest in Fun.” While the “fun” part was certainly on shoppers’ lists, the “invest” was a little more difficult to swallow.
“The economy is certainly on the mind,” said Jeff Andrews, who, with his wife Karen, was browsing among the midpriced sports boats, starting at $30,000.
The show features boats of every make and model, from $750,000 custom wooden boats and cruisers of more than 30 feet for the big lakes and rivers, to aluminum fishing boats, kayaks and sailboats.
The Andrewses, of Coeur d’Alene, want to buy a river boat before the start of the season, and said they’ll probably buy used.
“It’s kind of a goal, the economy willing, of course,” said Jeff Andrews.
On Friday, federal officials announced the U.S. economy grew in the fourth quarter of 2009 at the fastest pace in six years. While many economists and business owners remain skeptical about a full-scale recovery, local boat dealers are riding a more optimistic wave.
“There were people lined up to get in today,” said Scott Thompson, the boat show manager. He said that’s a marked difference from last year, when attendance and sales were down significantly.
“People figured out the end of the world isn’t coming,” Thompson said. “Now they want to go to the lake and have some fun.”
More than the economy, dealers said last year’s epic wintry weather – 52 inches of snow on the ground this time last year – kept people at bay. This year’s milder temperatures have people thinking about warmer weather. Most marinas open April 1.
“It’s hard to think about boating when you are shoveling 6 feet of snow on the ground,” Thompson said.
Craig Brosenne, general manager of marine operations for the Hagadone Marine Group, said people are buying boats to spend more quality time together.
“Everybody was hit so hard now they want to get back to their core values,” Brosenne said. That’s easily accomplished on a boat without computers, video games or other distractions of the modern age, he said.
And with 50 lakes or rivers within 50 miles of the Spokane area, including larger bodies of water like Lake Pend Oreille, Priest Lake and Lake Coeur d’Alene in North Idaho, it’s hard to find landlubbers in these parts.
“I grew up on the lake,” said Moses, who spent her summers on Lake Roosevelt. “It was an every weekend thing for my family.”
Because of the recreational access, many people don’t really think of boats as frivolous, but necessary.
“If you don’t have a boat up here you might as well go back to California,” Jeff Andrews said. “Because you aren’t enjoying what we’ve got to offer.”