Vendors recovering from BP spill flock to boat show

January 2011 News

The 55th annual Houston Boat Show has everything from racing boats to roasted pecans.

Trailered across 650,000 square feet inside Reliant Center, the fleet for sale includes simple skiffs and kayaks, sparkly painted bass boats, floating party piers with pontoon bottoms and $300,000 sea giants powered by multiple engines each taller than a person.

But there among the vendors and hawkers on aisle 700 is something even better: hope.

"All you can do is smile and keep swinging, my friend," says Raymond Griffin. "That's all you can do."

Griffin, 55, started Griffin Fishing & Lodging in Lafitte, La., 15 years ago. He weathered hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Ike and Gustav three years later. Every time they blew something down, he built something a little bit better. Roofs over his boat slips became decks and then they became screened-in decks with ceiling fans.

"After a hurricane, I knew exactly how many nails and shingles to buy to get my place going again," Griffin said one afternoon this week, between handing out brochures to passers-by and urging them to visit his lodge 30 miles south of New Orleans.

But fixing perception after the Gulf oil spill is a squishier task. How many months have to pass before people believe the fish are safe to eat?

"This one right here, I don't know how I'm going to whip it. I really don't," Griffin said. "But I'm going to whip it. I'm not going to just give up."

Boat sellers optimistic

For the 2011 Houston International Boat, Sport & Travel Show, which began Friday and continues through Sunday, Reliant Center has been transformed into a massive sales lot, with more than 1,000 boats sharing space with more than 150 campers. About 75 to 80 dealerships have representatives on hand to talk up the latest features and try to shake off the funk of the past couple of years.

Director of operations Kenny Lovell said dealers seem more optimistic.

"So far, the mood has been very upbeat," he said. "Boats are being sold. Some (campers) are being sold. People, I don't know if they are just tired of being cautious, but they are ready to get out and buy."

The Boat Show doesn't track sales figures, but Lovell said show attendance is up slightly, helped by discounted weekday prices and new activities for kids, including a robot comedy team returning this weekend.

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