- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - The moment, nearly a decade old, is seared into Scott Boyer’s memory.

It was a beautiful sunny day in July 2007, and the general manager of Boyer RV Center was walking around his sales lot in Summit Township.

Boyer saw his inventory of about 125 new and used recreation vehicles. What he didn’t see were customers. Any.

“No one came in that entire day,” Boyer said recently. “Not a soul.”

The recession was on the cusp of crippling the American economy, and nearly taking the RV industry with it.

The recession almost wiped out the recreational vehicle market. But the industry is back, perhaps stronger than ever, with an RV revival motoring across the nation as well as the Erie region.

The rebound is driven by several factors, RV analysts say, including cheaper gasoline prices, low interest rates, an improving economy, thousands of baby boomers turning 65 each day, the rising costs and restrictions of airline travel, and new RV fans among young families.

“The preference of the RV lifestyle is something people are seeking out more and more,” Boyer said. “The getaway from the hustle and bustle of weekday life, but still keeping home with you. I’m sensing more family values coming back, and I’m seeing more families in here looking for a relaxing atmosphere to do activities together.”

Boyer RV Center, 8495 Peach St., saw sales plummet nearly 40 percent in 2008 and 2009 compared with the pre-recession years of 2005 and 2006.

Business has recently been booming. Boyer said sales are up about 40 percent this month compared with April 2015, and skyrocketed in March with a 74 percent increase over March 2015.

“I believe this is going to be a record year for us for sales,” said Boyer, who has been with the business since it opened in May 1982. “The numbers so far are looking really good.”

The RV industry’s shipments will reach 381,100 units in 2016, a 2 percent uptick from the 2015 U.S. total, according to a new forecast from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

RIVA President Frank Hugelmeyer said 2015 marked the longest period of sustained growth in the past 50 years.

The RVIA forecast for 2016 is more than double the industry’s 2009 recession low.

The industry two months ago saw its best February in terms of RVs sold nationwide in 39 years, RVIA reported, and in January experienced the second-best start to a year since 1973.

“I believe the RV industry has survived because you can’t take camping weekends away from the American people,” said Ray Wakley, owner of Ray Wakley’s Car Care & RV Center, 10261 W. Main Road, North East.

Wakley, in business locally for 38 years, had his best year ever in 2015 in terms of gross sales: $10 million, up nearly 82 percent from the $5.5 million he recorded in 2009 during the heart of the recession.

Wakley’s off to a promising start this year, with $2.2 million in sales from January through March — up nearly 16 percent from the $1.9 million in sales he had during those three months in 2015.

Wakley said people in the Erie region and northwestern Pennsylvania love camping, and with that, love campers. But the RV reach, he said, is growing.

“RVs are becoming more and more popular for not only the weekend camper and the family vacation trips, but they are a preferred way of travel for tailgating, sports events, sightseeing and touring the country,” Wakley said. “You go at your own pace, bring your own food and drink, and sleep in your own bed at night in your home away from home.”

Jamie Reynolds, a first-time RV owner, picked up his recreational vehicle that he bought from Wakley on April 2.

The 40-year-old licensed land surveyor from Jamestown, N.Y., purchased a 2016 Rockwood Mini Lite travel trailer for $18,000.

The 25-foot RV sleeps six and is equipped with a full kitchen. Perfect for Reynolds, his wife and their two sons, ages 10 and 12.

Reynolds said he never envisioned himself to be an RV owner, but it made sense when he considered their visits to see family in the Rochester area. Those relatives live in a rural spot, near no hotels or motels, and they don’t have the room to put up Reynolds and his family overnight.

“We now have a mobile guesthouse on wheels, and the flexibility of not being bound to day trips,” said Reynolds, who also plans on some upcoming RV adventures during vacations to Hershey Park, Disney, and possibly the Grand Canyon. “We can now be able to go somewhere and decide, if we don’t want to drive back, to just stay. I like that idea a lot.”

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Online:

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Information from: Erie Times-News, https://www.goerie.com


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