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Boat dealerships in Western Pennsylvania make return

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By Bill Vidonic
Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, 7:07 p.m.
 

Back in the 1980s, before the collapse of the steel industry, there were about 50 boat dealers within a 50-mile radius of Pittsburgh, one dealer said.

These days, said John Kosmack, owner of Route 8 Marina in Shaler, there's no more than 10.

“We're doing OK, but we're not setting the world on fire,” Kosmack said.

The outlook is better nationally. Retail sales of new powerboats and sailboats are up more than 10 percent, according to a new report by the leading group that represents the recreational boating industry in the United States and Canada.

Sales of nearly every type of boat are on the upswing, which the National Marine Manufacturers Association says demonstrates a post-recession recovery for the industry.

Kosmack, who sells powerboats, said from August 2012 through last month, he's down about 15 percent in sales from the same period a year before.

Dave Colletts, 53 of Hampton bought his first boat from Kosmack, launching the 16-foot Tracker bass boat on the Allegheny River on Thursday.

“We had talked about it a couple years ago, and I guess now was the time to do it,” Colletts said Saturday. “My son and I fish all the time, and we just found it difficult to fish from shore.”

Statewide, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission had a recent spike in boat registrations.

Press secretary Eric Levis said nearly 333,000 boats were registered in Pennsylvania in 2012, up from 2011, when about 329,000 boats were registered.

Speculation is that dropping gas prices and an improving economy may have meant that more people decided they could afford to buy fuel and go boating, Levis said.

Allegheny County ranked No. 1 for registrations across the state in 2012, with 23,836, up slightly from 23,832 in 2011. In Western Pennsylvania, there were 67,226 registrations in 2012.

The state sold nearly 41,000 launch permits in 2012, mostly for canoes and kayaks, Levis said, which he called “one of the fastest-growing segments for the boating industry.”

Paul Egbert, owner of Wind & Water Boatworks in Penn, Butler County, said he's seen an increase in fishing kayak sales, but that's offset by slower sales for canoes.

“The dealers I've talked to, the increases are more in pontoon boats and fishing boats,” Egbert said. “I think maybe because the market has been depressed for so long, there's some latent buy-in.

“People have postponed since the recession, and they're finally getting comfortable enough to move ahead.”

The Erie Times-News contributed to this report. Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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