The City of Annapolis has canceled the U.S. Powerboat and Sailboat shows just six weeks before they were set to begin, because of COVID-19 health concerns.
The City informed Annapolis Boat Shows, which organize the events, Thursday that the events will not go on in Maryland’s capital.
“We are concerned about public health and the ability to maintain a safe environment downtown with the large number of visitors that the Boat Shows draw,” said City Manager David Jarrell. “It is a blow to the City and will be additional stress on local businesses. But we can’t be the epicenter of a COVID-19 outbreak. It’s that simple.”
The Powerboat Show, whose 49th year was scheduled for October 1–4, and the Sailboat Show, whose 51st running was set for October 8–12, bring a combined $112 million impact to businesses in Maryland, organizers say, along with tens of thousands of visitors to Annapolis.
Annapolis Boat Shows had been working on a plan for health protocols to keep the shows going, but the City of Annapolis says “in recent meetings between the City and the Health Department, it was determined that there is not a way to create the necessary conditions to maintain public health and safety.”
In an announcement on its website, Annapolis Boat Shows said there were only two meetings with the City of Annapolis and health officials. The show organizers write, “We understand the reluctance of governmental agencies to take any risks when it comes to health, but the reopening of the economy and the rescue of businesses in our communities must soon become a greater part of the conversation.”
Some boat dealers and exhibitors have come to count on the October boat shoe season for a sales spike. Chesapeake Whalertowne’s Rick Boulay, Jr. says, ““It’s disappointing. Typically, the Boat Shows represent 10% or more of the yearly business. At the same time, I think it was a logical decision for the city.”
Whalertowne has been part of the Powerboat Show for 47 years. In place of the show, they’ll host demos at the bulkhead of their downtown Annapolis store during the first two weekends of October, and a separate event for their Eastern Shore clients at their Grasonville office.
Sailboat builder Jeanneau America, which is owned by Beneteau, will feel the effects of the nation’s longest-running sailboat show being canceled. Former President Paul Fenn tells Bay Bulletin, ““Annapolis is a lot more than a show; it’s such an event for me. It’s the only show where everyone in the industry comes together. It’s a rendezvous of old friends. It’s an institution that has woven itself into the fabric of Annapolis.”
But Fenn remains optimistic:
“What’s going to take some of the sting out of it is sales are quite robust through the pandemic. But we certainly wouldn’t want to go another year without a show and maybe the spring show could make up for not having the spring and fall shows in 2020.”
Crusader Yacht Sales, an Annapolis dealer that exhibits at both the Powerboat and Sailboat Shows, is joining with other local dealers for “Walk the Docks,” an appointment-only open house September 24-27 where buyers can compare boat brands. Crusader plans to extend the concept to the first two weeks of October as well.
Then, boat brands and dealers, Annapolis Boat Shows, and the city of Annapolis will all look ahead to next year.
“This was a hard call. No one wanted to have boat shows in Annapolis more than I did,” said Mayor Gavin Buckley. “We will enthusiastically welcome the boat shows in future years when it is safe.”
For their part, Annapolis Boat Shows say they “look forward to moving beyond this paralyzing pandemic and making plans for bigger and better things in 2021.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano & Cheryl Costello