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Powerboaters' reputation is one of deep pockets Businesses eager; weekend show could draw 50,000


When visitors to the U.S. Power Boat Show arrive in Annapolis today, they likely will bring dreams of bigger, faster, better boats. And plenty of ready cash.

Powerboaters have a local reputation for being bigger spenders than sailboaters, who were in town last weekend.

"They're bigger drinkers, bigger partiers, bigger tippers," said Andrea Panos, a waitress at Mum's restaurant on City Dock. "If you're going to spend a lot of money on the water, then you're probably going to spend a lot of money on land."

Powerboating is not a cheap proposition. High-priced sailboats are plentiful, but powerboats of comparable size often are twice as expensive. Just filling the fuel tank can cost $200 to $300 a pop. And some engines go for more than $45,000.

"The powerboaters are just real into spending money," said Ms. Panos, 23, who expects to pick up an extra $300 in tips by the time the show closes Sunday night.

And the powerboaters don't spend only on food and drink, either. They come in droves to LaBelle Cezanne, a jewelry store on Main Street, buying on the spot and ordering presents for the holidays, said owner Michael Baghdadlian. They buy twice as much as the sailboaters, he said.

"A lot of people who come to the powerboat show already own a boat, and they're just looking around. What they really want is a taste of the city. You know, the shops and the night life," he said.

Some shopkeepers say sailboaters are every bit as free with their money.

"We order extra stock for both weekends, power and sail," said Marcia Carlson, who runs April Cornell, a clothing store on Market Space. "Both shows are a great boost to our business. It doesn't really seem to make a difference what kind of boats they are looking at."

Nevertheless, exhibitors who advertise at both the sailboat and powerboat shows say there is little debate over who's quicker with the cash.

"Last year, I did more than double the business with the powerboaters," said "Captain" Jan Robinson, who writes cookbooks for on-board use. She said she thinks they buy more because powerboat galleys are bigger and more convenient. She said she can't interest as many sailboaters in her recipes for poulet cordon bleu and martini a la Rudi.

City tourist officials expect more than 50,000 people in Annapolis this weekend to browse through the more than 700 powerboats on display, including a $2.9 million yacht and expensive, speedy "muscle boats" manufactured by companies with names such as "Black Thunder," or to attend the Navy-Air Force football game.

The city's economic development office and the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce do not keep statistics on local sales generated by the boat shows, but they say the shows are profitable for local businesses even when boat sales are down.

Indeed, some boat show exhibitors say they expect to spend more money than they earn this weekend.

Frank D. Bradford, who sells marine insurance, was in town for little more than an hour and already was spending on food, a hotel room and a $40 pair of sunglasses. He said he figures to have shelled out at least $400 by the time he heads back to Long Island, N.Y., after the show.

The difference in the way sailboaters and powerboaters spend has a lot to do with their contrasting mind sets, some local business people say.

At Riordan's Saloon, a favorite hangout of boat show visitors, bartender Joe Heeney said sailboaters like to strip their lives down to the bare essentials and don't seem as focused on money. And it shows in the tips.

"Wind is free," he said. "That's how they like it."

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