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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    Hartford Boat Show returns to Mohegan after COVID hiatus

    People take a look at a Finseeker 210CC boat at the Oxbow Marina booth Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, during the Hartford Boat Show at Mohegan Sun. Oxbow Marina is located in Northampton, Mass. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Salesman Nick DeBendet, second from right, of Diamond Marine talks with possible customers Steve Dumas, left, of Chaplin, Dee Gates, second from left, and her husband, Bob, of Ellington, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, while aboard a Blackfin 272 dual console boat on display during the Hartford Boat Show at Mohegan Sun. Diamond Marine is located in East Haven. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    A&S Boats booth, in foreground, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, during the Hartford Boat Show at Mohegan Sun. A&S Boats is located in South Windsor. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    People take a look at a Tiara Yacht 43LE display at the Portland Boat Works booth Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, during the Hartford Boat Show at Mohegan Sun. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Peter McGuinness, right, of Groton, is interested in buying a boat and gets some advice from Tom Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Boats in Lyme, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, while sitting next to Northeast center console boat at Reynolds booth during the Hartford Boat Show at Mohegan Sun. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Montville — Following a two-year COVID-induced hiatus, the Hartford Boat Show returned to the Mohegan Sun Earth Expo Center on Thursday for the event’s 54th edition, which runs through today.

    More than 100 boats, all from local sellers, were displayed in the expo hall, with 100 boating-related vendors scattered around the ballroom and main hallway. The event is sponsored by Connecticut Marine Trades Association. Managing Director Jen Kawecki expected 12,000 people to visit over the course of the show’s four days.

    “It’s very exciting to be back,” Kawecki said in her first year as show director. “I think the entire state of Connecticut has been waiting for the return of the Hartford Boat Show.”

    “We’re all starting to miss summer, and now we’re turning the page and looking forward to summer with all these boats,” she added.

    Bob Petzold, owner of Petzold’s Marine Center, is the chairman of the show and said it was good to “get back to normal” after two years away.

    Petzold, who helps by selling spaces and designing the floor layout, said this was his first year as chairman that the show actually took place. He said his family has been involved with every edition of the event.

    “There’s a lot of excitement,” Petzold said. “The people are ready to get back to normal, and certainly the dealers are ready to get back to normal.

    “We’re really promoting Connecticut dealers, Connecticut businesses,” he said.

    Petzold’s main office is located in Portland with an additional office in Norwalk, a marina in Chester and a sales office in Rhode Island. Though the main goal of any dealer is to sell boats, Petzold, and others, are interested in building relationships with boaters ,as well.

    He called buying a boat “a process” rather than “a spur of the moment purchase.” Petzold’s boats, like other vendors’, range from 18 feet to 60 feet long, with price tags from $40,000 to $4 million.

    “We hope to sell a dozen boats here, but again it’s building that relationship and the followup to hopefully sell somebody down the line,” Petzold said.

    He added that 400,000 new boaters have entered the field since the start of the pandemic nationwide, a trend he said he continued to see at the show.

    Petzold, and others, also notice the increased number of families involved in boating. He remembers seeing a “bunch of guys walking around with beer in their hands.” Now, there are spouses, children and strollers on the show floor, too.

    Miguel Gonzales attended the show for the first time this weekend with his wife and two kids. He said though he is a big fan of RVs, his friends have some smaller boats that got him interested.

    Between storing the boat in the off season and insuring it, Gonzalez knows there’s a lot of responsibility associated with the purchase. He said he had a few productive conversations at the event and was drawn to the jet skis.

    Gonzales’ 7-year-old son, Michael, said his favorite part of the day was “looking at the boats and sitting on them.”

    “Name another activity that the family can do together and stay together,” said Don Mackenzie, former owner of Boats Inc. in Niantic.

    Although he no longer owns the company after 33 years, Mackenzie said he was helping out the company by working at the show, his 35th overall.

    Mackenzie said he’s a big fan of the venue as the show, in its third year at Mohegan. Previously, it was held in Hartford, hence its name. Mackenzie said it makes sense to have it in southeastern Connecticut as this is “where the boating takes place.”

    “In Connecticut, we got Block Island, Montauk, Mystic River, Connecticut River — all these destinations that are really within an hour from Niantic, so it’s a great place to have a boat,” Mackenzie said.

    Boats Inc. primarily sells 20- to 36-foot boats that Mackenzie likens to an SUV. He said that attending the show can be “quite expensive” for vendors, but it has paid off for Boats Inc. as many sources of its sales leads come from the show.

    The show allows buyers to “get a feel for the dealership,” Mackenzie explained, and allows salesmen to close deals they may have already started. There are usually manufacturer special prices offered only at the show that some boaters take advantage of.

    If a boat is purchased at the show, it gives the vendors and manufacturers time to get the boat to the new owner before the season starts with the warmer weather.

    “It’s a process; it’s not an event,” Mackenzie said.

    Like Petzold and Mackenzie, Evan Cusson of Atlantic Outboard and Portland Boatworks said there are boats to fit any budget, and “you don’t need to be a millionaire,” saying he had boats starting at $20,000, but they can reach into millions of dollars.

    The sales manager said it was one of the busiest shows he can remember, and like the others, was looking to make connections with both new and experienced boaters.

    “Just happy to be back,” Cusson said of his 20th time attending.

    Dave Charette and wife Pamela fall into the “new boater” demographic, though Dave previously spent seven years in the Navy.

    “I spent a lot of time out on the ocean, and I kind of miss it. So I want to be out there and find a way to get out there myself,” he said.

    The couple, from Coventry, were just “kicking tires” and educating themselves on their future purchase. They are interested in an 18- to 20-foot boat for fishing and cruising.

    Pamela called the event “awesome” and liked how nice and “not pushy” the salespeople were to them. The two were planning to make a day of the event with a meal and some gambling to follow the boat show.

    “It’s a great place to come,” Dave said.

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