By Troy Redington
Last weekend, we loaded up all of our art, displays, children, and hope into our vehicle and made three 3-hour round trips to and fro the Showcase of Arts & Treasures in the posh and fancy Barrington, IL.
This little town on the outskirts of Chicago has a reputation of being rich and artsy. We were excited.
I left work early on Friday to drive through 60 miles of construction zone to get set up. The building was a bit hard to find, but it was dark that first night. The building seemed nice, and the staff (park district) was very friendly. They even had a few wheeled carts for vendors to use if they needed. We didn’t quite get everything set up, but we were unloaded – and that was important.
The next morning, we left at 5am and scrambled through 1.5 hours of big trucks, idiots, and construction to get to the show. The parking lot was already half filled with vendors and their trailers. We parked at the far end of the lot and went inside to finish setting up. After 10 minutes of standing there watching Johwey work her magic setting up the displays, I decided to take the kids out for breakfast. We were all hungry and in the way. We hit the McDonalds next door and then ventured to downtown Barrington to bring some Starbucks back for Johwey. On the drive, I was on the lookout for signs for the show – but saw none. Not a problem, since it was still 8am and the show didn’t open until 9.
We got back to the show with 30 minutes to spare before it opened. We hustled to take a quick walk through to see the other vendors – since there’s rarely opportunity to do once the show gets busy.
At 9am the show opened. The first ‘customers’ were perusing around. They were all wearing sweatpants and running shoes.
At 10ish, we made our first sale. It was another vendor. She asked how things were, with a concerned undertone.
We remained optimistic as the crowd of walkers and runners strolled by either before or after walking and running their laps on the running track that overlooks the gymnasium like a balcony.
We walked around and looked at the other vendors again. We picked out a number of nice things we’d buy as soon as the real crowd showed up and cleaned us of our inventory and filled our wallets with fresh profits.
For lunch, the organizers had arranged a local sandwich shop to deliver sandwiches. The sandwiches, which were of decent size and on a pretzel roll, were $6.00 – and chips were $1.50. Waters and sodas were $1. It wasn’t outrageously expensive, but it certainly wasn’t a good value either.
By 1:30, we were so bored that the kids and I went out to the car to take a nap. The parking lot was full, and most of the vendors were still parked up front in the prime parking places. A-holes.
We drove around a bit to check the signs again. The sign at the entrance was smallish, busy, and hard to read.
We found another sign at the busy intersection nearby – but it was also very difficult to read and poorly designed. It didn’t have an arrow or anything – its muted colors and busy layout looked like a pamphlet design blown up and printed onto the sign. The type of sign, and the way it was zip tied to a light pole, blended in with all the other debris of a business district. There was no way people were reading that sign.
By the end of the day, there were only tiny slivers of hope and optimism. I talked to many of the other vendors again to get their opinions. Of everyone I talked to, there was only one veteren of the show. It was her 6th year – and she had never seen it like this. She was pissed and NOT coming back. The rest were all first timers (and last timers as well).
At this point, we were contemplating tearing down and not coming back the next day. I confronted the organizer.
The organizer didn’t seem to agree with my opinion that the show was failing. She argued that the vendors were all quality (not relevant) and the ones she’s spoken with had a great day (she probably only talked to the girl selling chocolate at the front door). I called her out on the pathetic signs and even requested that she take a trip to Staples and make some new ones with some posterboard. A simple “ART SHOW –>” sign would likely quadruple the crowd. Even her husband agreed that the signs were terrible. She pointed out that they spent a lot of money on “social media” and “pizza box advertisements.” As an online marketing guy, I’ve done some checking and I have to call BS on their ‘social media’ advertising.
The next day was just as dead as the first. The crowd was mostly people who came to the building to walk the track. I bet there were less than 50 attendees that weren’t dressed to sweat.
For lunch we skipped the overpriced sandwiches and drove 10 minutes away to get some burritos from Moes (which were excellent!). I checked the signs again, the organizer did nothing to improve them overnight. Pathetic.
I wanted to confront the organizer again on Day 2, but I didn’t even see her. Perhaps she was too ashamed to even show up?
This. Show. Sucked.
Here are the pros and cons.
- Moe’s Southwestern Grill is about 10 minutes away
- the building is nice
- the vendors we met were great. nice stuff too. They won’t be back next year though
- No people!
- parking lot filled by vendors
- Barrington has traffic congestion problems