As boat show sails bravely on, most seek shelter from storm

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Outside, snow was piling up and cars were skidding through the slush. But inside the Convention Center yesterday afternoon, athletes in gym shorts and tank tops were jumping and swatting balls and diving in the sand.

"If it's going to snow outside, you might as well be inside playing beach volleyball and thinking of the summer," said Dave Hochrein of Towson.

The volleyball action was part of the Baltimore Boat Show, whose manager decided it must go on despite the region's first major snowstorm of 2005.

"Unless they close the city down or issue a state of emergency, we're open," said Michael Duffy, Northeastern regional manager of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

The sparsely attended show was an exception on a day that forced cancellation of many public events, made travel treacherous and gave countless high school students additional weeks to prepare for their SATs.

Traffic was steady, but many people hunkered down at home to enjoy the gallons of milk and 12-packs of toilet paper they stocked up on before the storm hit. The decision of some of the region's largest malls to close early gave an added incentive to stay put.

Even Baltimore's hardy drinkers were sticking close to home, with many an open barstool in the taverns that line O'Donnell Square in largely unplowed Canton.

Grocery stores and video rental stores in many parts of the metropolitan area did a booming business in the morning, only to see it drop off quickly after noon.

At the Eddie's grocery store in Charles Village, Lorraine Fertsch and Fred Vogt splurged on several gourmet deli cheeses and meats to make elaborate sandwiches at their nearby home. They left with their sports utility vehicle packed with $130 of groceries.

"Why not have fun if you are staying indoors?" said Vogt.

At a Harford County gym, fitness enthusiasts tried to squeeze in workouts before the snow made travel too treacherous.

Basketball courts, treadmills and aerobic classes at the Bel Air Athletic Club were full through the morning as patrons peered from gym windows to size up the snowfall.

"They're not going to be out and about later," said hospitality manager Alisha Nicholson. "So they want to get it in now."

At the Convention Center, the 500 boats on display appeared to outnumber the paying customers in the hall about 1:30 p.m. Salespeople gathered in small groups, talking with each other.

Duffy said the weather had taken its toll on attendance, but he remained relentlessly optimistic that the nine-day show would be a success despite losing a Saturday to snow.

"The people who are coming are serious buyers, serious boaters as well," he said. "People who enjoy boating will come out in any weather. They'll find a way to get home."

Or stay over.

Bill and Jeannie Caldwell of Washington came up Friday in a limousine to celebrate his birthday and were expecting to remain in a downtown hotel last night.

"If you're a boat lover, you'll go through whatever it takes to go to a boat show. It's fun," Jeannie Caldwell said.

Others were having just as much fun outdoors.

At Columbia's Lake Elkhorn, Matthew T. Rittenhouse and Anthony McDougle were taking a 6-mile bicycle ride. They said riding in snow is harder than in dirt.

"It's another challenge, but it's softer when you fall," McDougle said.

"Speak for yourself," Rittenhouse chided him.

On a nearby hill overlooking the lake, nine teenagers took turns snowboarding and sledding to the bottom, though most lounged at the top.

Adam Rooner, 15, a freshman at Oakland Mills High, said he comes to the hill every year, and each time either the county or the Columbia Association plows the path they're trying to slide across.

This year, several threw snowballs at a Howard County government SUV when they saw it come by with a snow plow, but this time they got a reprieve. The SUV operator lifted the blade as it reached the sledding course, giving the youngsters a break.

It might have been a great day to be a kid, but it was a tough time to be a retailer.

In Westminster, the landmark Hoffman's Ice Cream was open at 3 p.m. but owner Jeff Hoffman said he planned to close at 4 p.m. The shop is usually open until 9 p.m. Saturday, but Hoffman said business was slow - even for an ice cream shop in January.

"From 2 [p.m.] to 3 [p.m.], we had one customer," he said.

It wasn't much busier at The Mall in Columbia, where the parking lots looked like an empty white desert. Inside, there seemed to be more employees than customers.

At one kiosk, Deborah Carney-MacFarlane said she had sold only about $200 worth of calendars during the previous seven hours.

"See those seats over there?" she said, pointing to a sea of empty tables at the food court. "On a normal weekend, you wouldn't be able to find a spot."

Like several other large regional malls, the Columbia center closed during late afternoon.

But in the Eastern Shore town of Oxford, population 771, the only grocery was planning to keep its normal 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. hours.

Proprietor Chris McKelvy said it was just the kind of day to remind neighbors they can count on his Oxford Market and avoid a 12-mile trip each way to the nearest supermarket in Easton.

"We've actually been pretty busy, and I always try to keep to the posted hours so people don't have to wonder if we're here," McKelvy said. "Snow is usually pretty good for us. We're literally the only game in town."

Sun staff writers John Lindner, Chris Guy, Sarah Schaffer, Larry Carson, Trif Alatzas, Gus Sentementes, Jamie Stiehm and William Wan contributed to this article.

An article in yesterday's editions about Saturday's snowstorm misstated the location of the grocery store at which two people were purchasing gourmet cheese and meat. They were at Eddie's in Roland Park. The Sun regrets the error.
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