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Motor coaches swarm in, sweeten business earnings

The Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association rallies for a week at the airport and then pulls out, leaving many dollars.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


Like members of a lost tribe, they came from all over the continent, found a nice piece of ground and set up a camp where they could celebrate their reunion.

Yet as quickly as they arrived, the caravan -- better known as the Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association rally -- has moved on.

Nearly 2,800 motor coaches and their occupants turned the Hernando County Airport into a city on wheels last week. The rally, which ended Sunday morning, also provided a nice February jolt for local restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations.

Of the four motor coach rallies to be staged in Hernando County, this one was second largest. The rally's debut here in 1998 drew almost 3,200 motor coaches. The event is scheduled to return to the airport each year through 2007.

The influx of visitors is so noticeable that several businesses in Brooksville and along U.S. 41 south of town add extra staff during this week each year.

The Fireside Inn, hampered in recent months by construction along U.S. 41, was buoyed last week by a heavy flow of patrons streaming into the restaurant wearing motor coach rally ID badges. Business doubled from the week before, said Fireside manager Terry Bloxsom.

"This rally has made it busier than it has been in a long time," Bloxsom said Saturday.

The same was true just down the street at Publix, where motor coach enthusiasts stocked up their rolling homes, which frequently come equipped with refrigerators and microwave ovens.

"We know when they come every year," said Publix manager Karen Owen. "It's a good increase."

As in previous years, the 2001 motor coach rally was a logistical wonder.

It covered 130 acres of airport property, including 2 miles of runways.

It required a volunteer staff of nearly 700 people to manage traffic, provide security and other odd jobs.

It generated enough garbage to fill eight 30-yard-long Dumpsters -- twice.

Its infrastructure was sophisticated enough to include a post office, on-site EMS service, trolley system, 5,000-seat tent auditorium, power supply grid and a septic tank dumping service.

Two football field-sized tents were dedicated to vendors of specialty items: motor coach jewelry, motor coach satellite dishes, motor coach pesticides and motor coach cookware.

Other merchants hawked portable campfires, lawn furniture, motor coach insurance and temperature alert devices for pets that tell you when your dog is about to be roasted alive inside your motor coach.

"If it pertains to motor homing, you'll find it at the (coach) rallies," said Jake Morton, a retired utility worker from Otis, Mass., who came to the rally with his wife, Jo.

This was the Morton's third visit to Hernando County for a motor coach rally. It was also a momentous trip: They purchased a new, more than $200,000 motor coach from an on-site showroom.

More than a luxurious hobby toy, the Mortons have made motor coaches their full-time home for the past six years.

Mary Lawler, one of the event's key organizers and the national vice president for the Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association, declared the event a success.

"Most of our campers are very, very happy," she said. "We got great reviews."

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