For Inland Recreation Outlets, Sales Already Booming

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Beachfront retailers aren't the only ones with a sunny summer outlook.

Optimism seems to pervade the entire outdoor-recreation industry. Amusement parks have added rides and attractions, and sellers of everything from hot-air balloon rides to motorcycles say business keeps improving.

"I'm booked until August," said Arlene Schafer, manager of the Full of Hot Air Balloon Co. that she runs with her husband, Paul, from their Garden Grove auto-parts store.

She attributed the boom to people's desire to escape their troubles. "During the recession, people want to take their mind off it," she said.

Most of the passengers--the company transports as many as 16 a day paying $125 each--are seeking the serenity of the skies, Schafer said. Others may use a balloon ride to set the scene for a special event, such as a marriage proposal.

"One man had 'Will you marry me?' written on butcher paper and laid it on the ground" as his prospective fiancee glided in the balloon above. The problem was, "she never looked down," at least not until pilot called her attention to the message. The groom to be knew even before she landed, though, that her answer would be "yes." The balloon basket started bouncing as the bride to be jumped for joy.

In the motorcycle and personal watercraft business, sales have increased so much that one Orange dealership has been hiring sales representatives.

Don Clark, owner of Clark Kawasaki, said he has added three to his sales staff of eight and that sales so far this month are running 25% to 30% ahead of the pace for May, 1991.

The explanation?

"I call it 'deferred consumption,' " Clark said. Customers "have just decided things aren't getting any worse and maybe a little better. They are coming out of their caves."

But they aren't coming out entirely: The sales pace so far this year is brisker than in the previous two years, Clark said, but is still behind that of the late 1980s.

The Family Fun Center, a miniature golf course in Fountain Valley with a prominent view of the San Diego Freeway, has expanded in time for summer, Manager Mark Williams said.

Patronage has remained strong despite the recession, so much so that the center has added a go-cart track and is about to open a new kiddie ride area. While summer weather helps bring in customers, "entertainment is one of those things that people are going to do year-round," Williams said.

At Wild Rivers in Irvine, Orange County's largest water park, a tube slide will be the new feature of the summer season, said Melissa Mendoza, the park's marketing services coordinator. Called the Abyss, the slide is 650 feet long and allows people to enter one or two at a time.

Regional attractions, such as Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, are also unveiling new attractions for summer.

Disneyland's "Fantasmic!" nightly special-effects show, promoted across the nation, debuted two weeks ago and has the makings of a hit. Some guests waited in line six hours or more at the park last weekend to get the best spots to see the show, said Disneyland publicity chief Greg Albrecht.

And next month, Knott's Berry Farm will unveil an "Indian Trails" area in which American Indians in four different settings will demonstrate crafts and cuisine.

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