When Jim Niemeyer opened his appliance store in St. Louis Park nearly 50 years ago, customers weren't sure what to think when he started selling recreational vehicles. But the RVs that his father, Art, brought from Bemidji sold quickly -- so quickly that the Niemeyers closed the appliance business a few years later.
Their future, they decided was in the trailer business.
"We have everything from a modest trailer to a $500,000 home with everything in it," said Tim Niemeyer, Jim's son, who operates the family RV business out of Maple Grove. "No matter what kind of vehicle you have, you can find something to camp in."
As Minnesota's tourism industry celebrated its best summer since the recession started, RV dealers have also seen a spike in business -- in spite of gas prices that have recently hovered around the $4 mark.
Members of the Twin Cities Metro RV Dealers Association are seeing double-digit growth this year, with some almost 50 percent ahead of 2010 sales, said Lee Jones, a publicist for the association. Many of those dealers had record-breaking months this summer, he said.
The dozen RV dealers who took part in last week's sportsman's show at the Anoka County Fairgrounds -- many of whom are located along Hwy. 10 in and near Ramsey -- have seen sales climb dramatically since 2008, Tim Niemeyer said.
"Back in July of 2008, when gas got up to $4.17 a gallon, everything just kind of froze up," he said. "But I think that's when people got the itch to travel."
With the state's diverse terrain, access to outdoor sport and most residents within 50 miles of a state park, Minnesota is an ideal state for trailer sales, Niemeyer said.
Most camping is done between late May and Labor Day, when kids are out of school. But Niemeyer says there's a segment that prefers the cool campgrounds of fall, when bugs are at a minimum.
"It's a great way to get away and relax," he said. "Even the awnings are push button now."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419