Columbus was cold and brisk Saturday morning, and salt left over from snow removal stained the pavement beneath the steady foot traffic heading into the Ohio Expo Center.
But inside the Celeste Center and Bricker Building, visitors dreamed of warmer temperatures and long days spent outdoors as they took in gleaming new boats and pontoons and peeked their heads into sprawling new campers and RVs at the Ohio RV and Boat Show.
This weekend marks the return of the annual show, which took a hiatus in 2021 amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It is the 42nd year for the show, which is sponsored by the Central Ohio Marine Dealers Association and the Central Ohio Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association.
“It’s been nonstop,” show manager Tim Luckhaupt said Saturday morning. On Friday, the show’s opening day, attendance was 18% over the opening Friday from 2020, he said. “We’re very optimistic about this show.”
Camping and outdoor recreation have thrived throughout the pandemic, as people look for ways to get away and get outdoors, show organizers, dealers and visitors said. The show offers visitors a giant display of camping trailers, travel trailers, motor homes, truck campers, fifth-wheel campers, mini-motor homes, toy haulers, bass boats, cruisers, pontoon boats, personal watercraft and fishing boats, all at preseason sale prices.
“People want to keep their germs to themselves,” said Michael “Griff” Griffith, product specialist with Specialty RV Sales, which has facilities in Canal Winchester and Lancaster. “They don’t want to be in a hotel, so they just take their own living quarters with them.”
"People still have the desire to do things, and decided that since they weren’t able to be traveling distances, that they would look at staying in the area, looking at recreational vehicles as a way to get outside, get into the parks throughout Ohio," Luckhaupt said.
There are also "people who decided that being out on the water would be a great way to spend time together and make sure they were able to get outside and enjoy the spring, summer and fall weather,” he said.
The Streeter and West families are longtime campers, and found themselves especially grateful for their RVs and their beloved Tree Haven Campground in Westerville when the pandemic hit.
“We loved it,” said Sharon Streeter, 71, of the Hilltop. “I went to the grocery store, and camping. That’s all I did.”
“Especially when COVID first started, it was another set of walls to be in,” said Darlene West, 64, of Westerville.
The two women and their husbands were at the RV and boat show Saturday just to look around and see what’s new, but they already knew more people are interested in camping and in the market for campers, RVs and boats.
“We know that they’re more interested, because where our campground is, they’ve been packed the last two years,” said Doug Streeter, 70.
The growing demand and COVID-related supply issues have driven up costs and lowered inventory for some boat and RV dealers.
“We were down to very minimal campers there for a while; it got kind of scary,” said Griffith of Specialty RV Sales. “We were down to 25 campers that we had left on the lot.”
Typically, they’d have more than 300.
In previous years, the RV and boat show has filled three buildings at the state fairgrounds. This year, after organizers learned two RV dealers wouldn’t have any inventory to show, the show dropped to just the Celeste Center building and the Bricker Building, Luckhaupt said.
Still, the 2022 show has nearly 250,000 square feet of inventory on display.
Even without the RV and boat show last January, Alexander’s Landing in Millersport at Buckeye Lake was selling boats as quickly as it received them at the marina.
“Costs have gone up, but I don’t think that’s too much of a factor for most people, said Grace Harwood, co-owner of Alexander's Landing. “I think they’re willing to spend the money, it’s just that people are realizing that they can’t get it as quickly as they want to get it.”
If you want to go
The Ohio RV and Boat Show runs through Jan. 16, but is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Tickets are $14 for adults, $3 for children ages 6-13, and free for children 5 and under. Partial proceeds benefit the Ohio Wildlife Center. Discount coupons are available at Park National Bank or ohiorvandboatshow.com.
The show also offers special discount pricing on Wednesday and Thursday for adults who bring a canned good to be donated to a local food bank. On Thursday, the show will give free admission to first responders and military, with an ID.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio RV Boat Show returns to growing demand after pandemic shutdowns