The owner of Nelson’s Resort on Crane Lake is one of hundreds of faithful Sportshow vendors let down by the first-ever cancellation of one of the nation’s largest and longest-running fishing, hunting, boating, adventure travel and recreational vehicle shows.
Held each spring in downtown Minneapolis since it was founded in 1933, not even the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the ensuing upheaval of World War II ever stopped the show.
“I’m going to miss being there,’’ said Pohlman, a regular at the Sportshow since the 1980s. “I like to keep my face in front of our customers. That’s where we met a lot of our long-term guests.’’
Planned for April 2-5 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the show’s promoter canceled it in cooperation with the city of Minneapolis within hours of the first COVID-19 news conference held by Gov. Tim Walz. Not only did the cancellation deliver a financial blow to businesses that rely on the Sportshow for bookings and sales, but it also forced a yearlong rain check on 35,000 outdoors enthusiasts who were planning to attend. Advance ticket sales are being refunded and vendors are seeing their investments rolled forward to next year.
“It’s difficult because it was going to be 88 years … it’s been the kickoff to spring for that long,’’ said Darren Envall, vice president of Midwest boat and sports shows for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Envall said Harrisburg, Penn., is the only other place in America with a hunting and fishing show that’s unquestionably larger than the show that began so long ago at the Minneapolis Auditorium.
Dave Perkins, a historian of the show (and a former owner of it), said it used to run for nine days starting on Easter. It would have been canceled during World War II if it wasn’t for federal permission to stay open. He said a government official described the show as “a service to the depressed public during these unsettled times.’’
The event was always a showcase for the makers of fishing tackle and other gear, Perkins said, but it also was anchored by a family-friendly stage show that put “The Great Outdoors” on display. Over the years there were lumberjack exhibitions, fly-casting competitions, hunting dog displays — even bear wrestling.
Perkins said the show never came close to being canceled before this year, but it did shift to the Metrodome in 1988 for an abbreviated run while the new Minneapolis Convention Center was built. He said the Sportshow has endured as a harbinger of spring because it shows people indoors what they soon want to do outdoors.
For Mark Slater, sales representative for Zebco Fishing, the Sportshow has always been more than just a business opportunity. Yes, it’s a time to strengthen ties between manufacturers and retailers with special deals that last throughout the show. But in the show’s absence this year, he’ll miss the excitement generated when people are elbow to elbow in the massive convention halls, checking out new equipment, sitting down for seminars, introducing kids to the trout pond, or exploring new possibilities for trips.
“A big part of it is just getting the base riled up to go fishing,” Slater said.
Now that the coronavirus has turned life upside down, he said, people who love the outdoors may develop an even deeper appreciation for it.
“When this thing passes, I don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘We didn’t catch enough fish,’ ” Slater said.
Boat dealers have their own expansive sports show in Minneapolis, held in January. But foot traffic at the Northwest Sportshow is too powerful for many of the dealers to pass up, said Jake Jacobson, general manager of the Twin Cities-based Rapid Marine group.
“It’s a big loss for our company in revenue,’’ Jacobson said. “Saturday and Sunday are always monsters. … It’s pretty lucrative for two days.”
But Jacobson said he only wishes the show would go on “if the country was OK.” The letdown isn’t going to break his year, he said.
“The crisis out there is way more important than whatever we do,” Jacobson said.
Envall, the Sportshow’s promoter, said fans will have the option to take a virtual tour of the 2020 get-together by calling up a link that’s soon to be activated on the Sportshow’s website.
Meanwhile, dates for next year’s show have already been nailed down: March 25-28 at the convention center.
Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213