Gambling on Estes Park, CO

If they had a casino up here I might have had a better return but as it was an art show my odds of success dropped exponentially! My spouse likes to go to casinos to gamble, not much, maybe $20 or so on nickel slots. I used to tell her to give me the $20 and we'd both be ahead, she'd have the satisfaction of losing the $20 and I'd have the money to take her to dinner. Then I got the joke, maybe I should have given her the booth fee!
Having just finished the Art Market show in Estes Park, CO I'd better get my thoughts down quick! First though just the facts!

Show Hours and Dates: Art Market of Estes Park, Estes Park, CO

May 24 - 26 (Memorial Day Weekend), 9-5 Sat & Sun, 9-4 Mon.


The show is set up on the sidewalks around Bond Park in downtown Estes Park. So, as far as locations go, this show had high visibility from the main drag through town. A real plus, or so I thought. The volunteer staff from the show do a good job of wrangling the artists into their spaces and as people arrive at their own staggered time frame there was never a problem of over crowding.


No water, no snacks, some volunteer booth sitters for the occasional break. Clean regular restrooms in the town hall or the library around the corner.

Storage, Booth Space, Load-In/Out:

Depending on your location, most booths had storage space behind, not a lot of space but it was there! No space between booths to speak of. This is a small park and they really tried to make use of all the concrete acreage available to them. No booths were on the grass, perhaps to keep it from being trampled or keep people from making it a soggy mess when it rained. Which is did.

Demographics/Buying Trends:

The whole range showed up, all ages and types. The few artists I touched base with seemed content with their sales. A painter across from me sold two larger pieces above $200 each, an artist working with wood sold several large pieces throughout the weekend and another photographer said he sold well with unmatted/unmounted work. As for me, well it wasn't "nada" but it wasn't pretty! Based on my experience with other "mountain" shows in the past I filled in my inventory with lower price point items ($25) thinking they'd pull'm in. I sold three of them...all weekend. There were plenty of lookers and admirers but that was it. Reasons, I could speculate from now till next Thursday be-that-as-it-may-be see my reflections.

Quality/Range of Art:

This was not a high end FA show rather more of a craft show with some FA thrown in. The work that was there was well done.


There was the usual "Fair Food", one over priced hot dog wagon (with lemonade!) and the ubiquitous popcorn van! Estes Park is a town with plenty of restaurants a few are within walking distance of the park and you can call an order in and pick it up.


Years ago after trying different venues in Colorado I gave up on them and developed two guidelines: 1) don't do mountain shows and 2) don't do holiday weekend shows (with some exceptions). I broke both rules to try a show I hadn't done before. I have two guidelines...I should have stuck to them!

Why not mountain shows? They are small communities with limited means. Its not that they don't appreciate the art, they just can't afford it on wait staff salaries. They're looking for items that fit their budgets. I thought this show would be different as it is a major tourist draw. I know that isn't entirely true as there are those who can afford higher priced items, they just don't show up in droves.

Holiday shows? Well...its a holiday and in my experience people are typically looking for entertainment and not art. There are exceptions to this rule but they are few and far between.

One glaring observation I made. Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. On any given weekend the sidewalks are packed with people crawling from one souvenir and T-shirt shop to another. You can hardly move! Not so this weekend. The place almost looked like a ghost town, there actually were more people walking through the art show than town. Even the restaurants were perplexed by this lack of traffic. This is mere speculation but it could have been due to a perception that Estes Park was "closed" due to the flooding and severe road damage from last September. CDOT went out of their way to reconstruct one of the major routes to town and had posted alternative routes to town. Could it have been that it was a rainy weekend in Denver? And so on and so forth.

Okay, now for the Dave Piper star rating! I'd give this show ✩ and that is because of the nice job of logistics by the volunteers of the art center.

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  • Hey Brian,

    I read your feedback and joined AFI just to offer mine.  I did this show 2 years in a row.  First in 2013 and the second being this year.  As a photographer, I know my work is subjective (as is any art) so you either like it or you don't.  That being said, was traffic down from 2014?  Yes, but the weather in Denver was just as bad.  Weather is weather.  I show double booth now and did not for most of 2013.  For this show I was double booth and my sales generated my best show ever (as of this post) and that is after completing 5 other shows (as of this post).  Would I go back?  No brainer for me.  

    I completely respect your input, feedback, and perspective.  Here are some of the changes I made going into Estes this year.

    I removed from my booth is cheap stuff (not saying you have any).  Last year, I had coasters for 20.00 and prints as low as 15.00.  This year, I changed my entire approach.  Good, better, best (meaning 11x14 bin print, 16x20 bin print, or mounted as you see on the wall.  I have 6 signs in my booth that simply say "On Vacation, We ship".  I leave nothing to assume. More than 60% of my business was out of towners, with one commissioned piece credited after the show, as we as another post sale order.  Both shipped.  

    I NEVER discount!  I incentive.  For example, if someone walks up to me with 4 prints in their hand at 75.00 each and they ask for a discount, I reply "since you are buying 4, I will toss in the 5th free.  Just pick another that you liked!".  Works every time.  Same holds true for wall mounts.  If they buy one and want a discount, I tell them "I will have a new one made and ship it to you free.  That way, you get a brand new limited edition piece that gets delivered right to your door.  I will even supply you with everything you need to hang your new art".  Again, works every time.

    Last but not least, I NEVER sit.  I don't even bring a chair.  I greet everyone, introduce myself, and tell them to "step in and enjoy and just let me know if you have any questions."

    I know the artist you refer to about the 11x14 with 50% off.  I agree, there should be no sale signs, or out of business signs as she has had.  That being said, I know who my customer is and that's not my customer.  They are more than welcome to shop there.  They don 't clutter my booth and keep me available for that customer from CA who popped for a 40x60 at that show.

    These are just the things that I learned late last year and it made a positive impact for me in Estes this year.

  • @Brian B. No, she didn't give them away at $200, i said they were priced ABOVE $200 so in the range of $200-$300. Which, given the size was probably still a good deal below others I've seen in the same size/price range.

    Seeing that we are on the subject of "give aways" there was one artist at the show who had a "Sale" sign on their booth with 11 x 14 images framed for 50% off. That stinks for a couple of reasons, 1) They are undervaluing other artists as the prices were so low to begin with and 2) Their "sale" has been going on for a couple years now! All other art shows I've done would not tolerate "Sale" signs.

  • I have my business set up as an LLC, Dick. Fortunately, I didn't have any problems with the taxing authorities in Texas. I totally agree with you, Brian. Artists should not be giving their work away at such low prices.

  • First of all you said a painter sold 2 large pieces for $200 each? WTF?! That painter is not doing him any favors selling work that cheap and he/she won't get the respect they deserve. 

  • Good to meet you as well Weldon. You definitely have a point with the wildlife (and mountain landscape) images selling in mountain towns! I've noted that before. Best of luck to yah!

  • Weldon, good to see you again, and I got to meet Brian and Kevin as well. Yes, there is a lot of Texas money in Colorado resort areas in the summer. I won't do shows in Texas as the margins weren't that great after travel and studio down time, even though they were profitable (2011). Throw in getting hassled by Texas taxing authorities for being a corp. and they can take a hike. Some of us did very well this year and in part I think it was people coming to support the town.   When people asked for cash discounts, I said something to the effect that it wouldn't help Estes with recovery tax revenue and they bought anyways. Tax rate in Estes goes up 1% to 8.5% July 1, 2014. I drove through that tornado warning on E470 - nasty looking storm. 

  • First, let me say that it was nice to finally meet you in person, Brian. As I mentioned at the show, this is our second year doing art festivals and we've got a lot to learn. Having said that, Art Market was our best show last year. For some reason, this year was very different. I believe the reason for low attendance was weather related . . . tornado warnings along the Front Range most of the week prior to the show, along with heavy rains, and some flooding. Add to this the devastation caused by last year's flood and I think this was in the minds of many individuals who decided they just didn't want to take any chances by coming to Estes Park.

    As for mountain shows, the ones in which we participated last year were good to us. For the most part Brian, I agree with you regarding the locals. The majority of our larger sales have been to visitors from other cities and states. And yes Tina, we do ship. In fact, 99.99-percent of my framed wildlife photographs are shipped. I even have a couple of signs in our booth - WE SHIP ANY SIZE ANYWHERE . . . and, shipping is included in the price of my images. It gives me a bargaining point.

    Last year, a good majority of our Colorado sales went to individuals from Texas who were visiting the mountain towns in Colorado. Hint, hint. So we decided to do a couple of shows down there and fortunately we were juried into both Bayou City Memorial Park (Houston) and Cottonwood Art Festival (Richardson). Unfortunately, sales were not what we expected, in fact we did not even make our booth fee at Cottonwood.

    A good friend of mine and fellow photographer also participating in art festivals had this to offer . . . it may be that collectors tend to purchase art when they're on vacation and away from home. His reasoning - he purchased a couple of Tom Mangelsen's wildlife photographs while on vacation.

    My thoughts . . . many of the people visiting mountain communities come to see the wildlife. Since I sell high-end wildlife imagery, my focus will be on mountain towns where wildlife is plentiful and the money flows.

    Just food for thought.

  • Most of the people I talked with were locals and I always let people know that I can ship.

  • As I read this I thought well we were in Estes Park last summer and when traveling by plane no easy way to get things back home. Any thoughts if you posted "we ship" signs if that would encourage sales if the patron would pay for it. Convenience is everything sometimes.
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