By JIM SHEA, Courant Staff Writer
Published on January 15, 2006
When you build something as pricey and prominent as the Connecticut Convention Center, it is with the expectation that they will come.
Friday, and especially Saturday, they did.
In the first major public admission event since the city’s shiny penny opened last spring, the Northeast RV and Camping Show was expected to draw 15,000 to 18,000 visitors by the time it closes this evening, according to Northeast’s President Joseph Gonsalves.
“I’m ecstatic with the attendance,” Gonsalves said. “We thought it would do well. There was a lot of demand for floor space at the show, and we sold it out in three weeks.”
Even before the doors opened at 10 a.m., a steady stream of cars was snaking its way into the convention center’s adjacent parking garage.
Campers and RV enthusiasts were greeted by 140,000 square feet of exhibition space jam-packed with 300 RVs and campers and 81 booths, providing everything from campground information to cooking tips.
According to a 2005 University of Michigan study commissioned by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, there are now 8.2 million recreational vehicles on the road and an estimated 30 million enthusiasts nationwide, including renters.
Those figures represent a 15 percent increase in the past five years and a 58 percent gain since 1980.
Cheryl Cote of Enfield, who was attending the show with her husband and father-in-law, said her family, which includes two children, has owned a 34-foot RV for the past five years.
“We came here to get ideas,” Cote said. “We usually go on trips in the summer, the whole family and our two dogs. We really love it.”
Besides the show, Cote was impressed with the convention center.
“It’s a nice place and big,” Cote said. “The parking was easy and the signs were good coming in, because we had no idea where to go.”
Although camping might be seen by some as a low-brow pursuit, the average RV owner is identified by the Michigan study as being, in fact, 49 years old, married and with an annual income of $68,000.
To view the range of RVs on display at the show is to quickly come to the realization that this ain’t your mother’s camping experience.
RVs are broken down into two main categories: motor homes and towables:
Towables run the gamut from pop-up tent types units, to standard trailers, to “fifth wheel” models that are pulled behind a pickup.
Motor homes are self-contained units that can range from ones the size of a van, to the Class A monsters, which can be as large as a bus and cost from $200,000 to more than $500,000.
There is no roughing it in a Class A motor home. Most not only have living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms, but also come with showers, washer-dryer units and even electric fireplaces.
So who can afford these traveling Taj Mahals? You’d be surprised.
“A lot of retired and semi-retired people buy these,” says Lou Travers, a salesman for Marty’s USRV, one of New England’s largest dealers. “Because they have a kitchen and bathroom, they can be considered second homes, so they’re tax-deductible. People finance them over 15 or 20 years like they’re a mortgage.”
And as one visitor was overheard saying, “The great thing about something like this is, if you don’t like your neighbors, you can just drive away.”
The show runs today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $9 for adults, and children under 14 are free. For more information, call 860-529-2123 or go to www.ctrvshow.com.