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Hartford show’s new venue a hit

Prospective boat buyers milled about the Connecticut Convention Center for the 37th annual Hartford Boat & Fishing Show. Organized by the Connecticut Marine Trades Association, the show was held Jan 19 to 22.

From children asking, “Daddy, can we buy this boat?” to husbands asking their wives, “Can’t you see us cruising around in this one, honey?” prospective boat buyers milled about the Connecticut Convention Center for the 37th annual Hartford Boat & Fishing Show. Organized by the Connecticut Marine Trades Association, the show was held Jan 19 to 22.

Peter and Ellen Russell, of Chester, Conn., were at the show looking to buy their first boat. “We just want a boat to do some family cruising — maybe a Formula or Fountain under 30 feet,” says Peter Russell. “Everything here is set up nice and all the new boats are great.”

In addition to the more than 335 boats on display — ranging in size from 6-foot inflatables to 42-foot sailboats — a number of attendees were impressed by the change of venue from the HartfordCivicCenter to the new ConnecticutConvention Center. “I come to this show every year and this place, I can say, is a much better venue,” says Matt Mueller of Torrington, Conn. The Convention Center, located on the eastern edge of Hartford overlooking the Connecticut River, opened last June and boasts more than 140,000 square feet of exhibition space. “It doesn’t feel anymore like the show is being held in a big cement aircraft hangar,” Mueller says. “The show just has a better, classier feel.”

One person who couldn’t agree more is Grant Westerson, show promoter and executive director of the CMTA. “The Hartford Boat Show had been held in the CivicCenter for 25-plus years without enough room,” he says. “In the Convention Center we increased our size by 50 percent. There’s much, much, much more room now. A good example of that is how we went from having about 80 exhibitor booths to 140 this year, and more than 300 companies exhibiting. For the attendees, that means they get a show that’s a real cross-section of the state’s boating industry all under one roof. This year’s show was more than a home run.”

Westerson estimates that between 17,000 and 18,000 people from New England and the mid-Atlantic attended this year’s show — up more than 5,000 from previous years.

Also pleased with the new location are the exhibitors. “It was a real big plus,” says John Uljens, general manager of Birbarie Marine in Branford, Conn. “The quantity of quality customers able to attend the show was good and it seemed as though they had a more positive outlook in regards to purchasing boats.”

Don MacKenzie, show president and owner/vice president of Boats Inc. of Niantic, Conn., says this was the best Hartford Boat Show ever. “Connecticut is a great state to have a show like this and the Convention Center was the perfect venue,” he says. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better.” MacKenzie says that Boats Inc. sold a number of boats at the show, including one 30- and one 33-footer, and is following up on nearly 150 potential sales.

One new attraction this year was the fishing component of the show. There were a number of fishing boats and fishing-related exhibitors on display. “There’s a natural tie between fishing and boating and we wanted to give the public a more rounded view of all the different recreation options available to them,” Westerson says.

The show also featured a number of fishing-related seminars including “Baiting Big Bass,” “Small Boat Bluefin Tactics,” and “The Otter Trolling — Trophy Bass on tube and worm.” The highlight was ESPN and the New England Sports Network’s Charlie “the Mad Fisherman” Moore’s presentation. Moore was mobbed by fans afterwards and signed autographs for nearly four hours, Westerson says.

Although there was some move-in/move-out confusion in the new venue, Westerson says, the CMTA is optimistic that next year’s show will be an even greater success. “With a new building there are always wrinkles to work out,” he says. “I think next year can only get better because we’ll be better prepared. We’re truly looking forward to next year’s show.”