After much thought here is a brief description of the events leading up to the Harwinton show last weekend- the most challenging show we have run in nearly 30 years:
Friday, June 3- After long thought, it was mutually agreed that we needed to find a new wall vendor for the show. Travel times and a conflicting show made it almost impossible for our regular supplier. With nearly 30 vendors needing walls finding a replacement became an immediate need. On this issue, we hit the jackpot with Stacy Exposition. They stepped in and never missed a beat. Challenge solved.
Saturday, June 4- While at Karate with Graham, received a phone call from our tent vendor informing us that due to the growing size of the job (40 tents, 250 tables) that they couldn’t fill the order. Panic sets in- how do you locate that many tents that need to start going up in 72 hours on one of the biggest wedding/graduation weekends of the year? To start with, you start by calling every company that owns tents in New England. At this point, I actually taped my cell phone to my hand. By the end of the day, I had several companies exploring the possibility of filling the order, while nearly 20 said they didn’t have a single tent to rent.
Sunday, June 5- Travel Day. Many of you with small children know the joy of a long day of airport travel. That three hour layover in Detroit sounded ok when I booked the tickets. Security made me remove the taped cell phone from my hand, but only lost several minutes of calling. We arrived at our hotel around 9 p.m. - tired and still tent-less.
Monday, June 6- We got up and went to the show’s new home, the Harwinton Fairgrounds. The grounds were in great shape, grass mowed, buildings ready to go. I spent most of the morning on the phone in a frantic search for tents. By noon we had dispatched a rental truck to Vermont to pick up the small tents that we were going to have to put up ourselves. If you think finding tents is challenging on short notice, try finding a 26’ truck. By Monday evening, the tents were loaded and should arrive by noon on Tuesday. Our large tents were going to go up on Wednesday morning by two companies, one from CT and another from MA. For the moment, it looked like everything was on schedule. Dad had located some extra labor in our hotel parking lot to help with the tents (you always find great labor in hotel parking lots). All kidding aside, the group of guys that Steve from Waterbury put together were a tremendous help numerous times during the week.
Tuesday, June 7- While on the way to the show, the truck was pulled over for not stopping at a weigh station in Massachusetts. After nearly an hour of pleading ignorance (we were), apologies and promises to correct the many errors of our ways, the truck was back on the road. Arriving around 1 p.m. the tents began to make their way skyward with the help of our crew.
Wednesday, June 8- The two tent companies arrive and begin erecting the large tents while our guys make good progress on the smaller tents, I spend most of the day at a board meeting for the Alliance for Art & Antiques, a newly formed trade group for the industry. The show was really shaping up by Wednesday evening, just a few things to tidy up, some tent sidewall to hang and one larger tent to go for a smooth Friday dealer set-up.
Thursday, June 9- A forecast for afternoon storms seemed to be minor obstacle, but little did we know they would dramatically alter our plans. Around 5:30 what could be described as a microburst hit the fairgrounds. High winds, hail and torrential rain pounded for nearly an hour. The aftermath was devastating, with most of the small tents either damaged beyond use or blown away. The large tents fared better, with two sustaining minor damage, and one not yet erected.
I was at Wal-Mart in Waterbury when the storm hit with Kelly, Mom and Graham buying supplies for the show. Dad called to share the news and needless to say I was absolutely blown away (pardon the pun). After working for days to find and put the tents up, they were blown away in a few minutes less than 14 hours from dealer set-up. I began wandering aimlessly through the aisles babbling like some modern day show promoting Rain Man mumbling nonsensical phrases “Definitely need duct-tape” and “Set-up starts in 14 hours”. It took me about 10 minutes of wandering around the store (which kept losing power from the storm) to regain the senses I could muster. I called back to the field where I was told that the weather was too bad to even assess the damage, but needless to say we needed tents. It was at this point that conventional definitions of sleeping and eating went on hold for 96 hours.
After a few phone calls, we were very lucky to find a tent provider (Sturdy Tents) who was willing and able to come in on Thursday night and have tents up by Friday morning. The small problem was he needed labor, and our staff had been working since 7 a.m. and had at least 5 or 6 more hours of clean-up work to do. Dad then called Steve and asked if they would like to pull an all-nighter putting up tents. The answer was an immediate yes, as long as they got to finish watching the NBA game.
Around 11:30 Thursday evening, a crew of 9 guys and 1 girl began to erect the 20 or so tents needed by the following morning.
Friday, June 10- Dealers were told via email the night before the news of the storm and related damage. While most booths were un-damaged, the grounds were very wet and one of the large tents and some of the smaller tents were not finished, but set-up began. Dealers for the most part were exceptionally understanding and more than willing to deal with the delays. The exceptions to that were in the large tent that did not get finished prior to the storm. The company that provided that tent had given us assurances that the tent would be up early in the a.m., but failed to deliver. This began a series of booth shuffling to put dealers who had arrived in spaces in the tents that were already up. When the company finally arrived (mid-morning) there apparently was a huge miss-communication with their (Portuguese?) staff as they began taking the tent apart. After a few frantic phone calls, the error was corrected and the tent was put up by about 1 p.m. - or 4 hours behind schedule.
Set-up went as smoothly as could be expected given all the complications of the weather and the fact it was a first time in the new facility. Booths that looked good on paper but not when set up were moved and the show was shaping up. As the day wore on, it looked like we had overcome most of the severe obstacles. We began to see light at the end of the tunnel, but little did we know that the light was a train coming full steam ahead.
Let me preface what I am about to write with a statement. I understand and support all those who work to promote public safety at our events. In 20 plus years, many of the police and fire officials that we have worked with have become friends and will tell you that we strive to make sure our events are the safest around. We began working with local fire officials prior to the show about the standards that our tents would have to meet. We were clear with our suppliers about what those standards were and were given assurances that all tents would meet those standards. When a local official inspected our tents on Friday night, we were informed that three of the five large tents did not meet code requirements for Flame Ret ardency. The problem was not with the tents, but the fact they were not labeled properly. One tent had 4 labels, was missing 1 and had a clear marking where the label had been, but could not be passed. After several hours of discussion that lasted past 11 p.m., a compromise was reached that would allow us to use the three tents if vendors would change the orientation of their booths to face the outside of the tents and hiring a fire watch in each of the three tents that did not pass inspection. This was the only solution other than closing the tents and having the vendors not participate.
Saturday, June 11- arriving early, we began the task of telling vendors in the tents that they would need to change the orientation of their booths. This was met with varying degrees of response from begrudging acceptance to outright rage. We also were informed that the show could not open until the sidewalls were down on the tents, no big deal except for the fact that minutes prior to opening the skies opened up with another 1-2 inch rainfall. While assisting in the teardown of a dealer’s booth to meet with fire-code, I was informed that the traffic had backed up a half mile because the front gate could not be opened until the fire official gave the ok. I then asked local fire personnel to assist with the sidewall tear-down so we could get the show opened.
The show opened with a decent crowd (very good considering the weather). It looked great and the Harwinton Fairgrounds will make a great home moving forward. Most dealers were encouraged and there were reports of some very good shows. The tough first show wasn’t something that I would have wished for, but reminds us of that great Mike Tyson quote “everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face”.
Sunday, June 12- Started the morning handling the passing out of a dealer letter, collecting balances due as well as doing a little bit of damage control. There were booths that simply couldn’t handle the 4-6 inches of rain that had fallen in the past 72 hours. Tried to maintain my sense of humor and hide the frustrations that were boiling just beneath the surface. A dealer asked me on Sunday if I would characterize this as the show from hell. I told her I submitted the details of this show to hell for consideration, but they thought it was a little to punitive for their standards.
Monday, June 13- How do you get the remnants of 25 broken and battered tents back to Vermont?? Once again it’s Stacy Expo to the rescue. We were unable to do it ourselves as we were now on a Department of Transportation database and didn’t think we could please ignorance again. We managed to get everything wrapped up on Monday.
Need to close this by thanking a lot of people who endeavored to make a huge pitcher of lemonade out of the largest batch of lemons ever:
Kelly & Graham, Mom & Dad
Peg, Tim, Lynette, Bill, Ted, Tom, John and the guys on the crew
The Waterbury Guys
The Terlecky’s and everyone else in Harwinton who pitched in and helped
Dealers and Customers who stuck it out at the toughest one yet and apologies to those who couldn’t
Janie for picking a good one to miss and helping from afar
People who help but wish to remain anonymous
The fine people who bring us Diet Coke, Pharmaceuticals, Seagrams Distillery (now Viageo), the small hamlet of Lynchburg, Tennessee and the bedbugs who made a brief appearance but as of yet have not followed us home.