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"Flogged by the weather forecaster?": Collingswood Crafts & Fine Art, Aug. 20-21, 2011

It's a sad commentary on my state of mind, perhaps, that I started to post this with a show date of "July 20-21" before catching myself.  When you aren't sure what month it is, it may be time to go home and take a few weeks off!

I wish I were able to.  But alas, the "Northeast Extension 2011" from Fort Myers, FL continues, and so do the bills...so I can't help but be a little testy about this past weekend's visit to Collingswood NJ.

Not that the show sucked.  And not that it was great, either.  The source of my ire is that I only saw the first act of the two-act play, thanks to some dire forecasting by the weatherman. 

Act 1 was reasonably OK: Saturday morning dawned sunny and not too clammy, at least, for August in the Philly suburbs.  It was only a 15-minute drive from my Extended Stay motel in Mt. Laurel, and upon arrival the local cops had the area nicely cordoned off.  Although I didn't see the promised volunteer who would direct me to my space, a patrolman and an artist who'd done the show previously made it easy to find.

The booths run back--to-back for about five blocks along the center of Haddon Avenue, logistics which lend this show  a unique choreography: Per the show instructions, you drive alongside your (nicely marked) space by 6:45 am and unload onto the sidewalk, then park your vehicle in one of two nearby lots and walk back to your space.  Setup, we were told, begins at 7 and not a moment before (this gives artists' vehicles a chance to exit through the normal driving lanes).  Then, at 7, you move your stuff off the sidewalk and set up in the center of the street. (I was wondering if, at 7 AM, someone would fire a starter's pistol or ring the Liberty Bell, or something.  Would there be a prize for the first artist to spring back from his/her tent, hands in the air, with the setup complete?  But I digress.)

The plan worked pretty darn well.  A few folks had begun setting up early, and a few artists ignored the instructions that said that if you arrived after 6:45, you'd have to dolly in from the parking lot.  One artist on my block arrived just before 8 AM and drove right along the curb, nearly running over several of my tent poles. But all in all, one of the easiest setups I've had all summer.

Saturday crowds were respectable, though hardly elbow-to-elbow, at least until 1 PM when it started getting hot.  Although no one was buying big, they WERE buying, at least from me, and from a purveyor of metal sculpture fashioned from rods of some sort (think metallic "art on a stick").  Although the crowds were appreciative, they were buying small: 8x10 and 11x14 mats, mostly, and there was little conversation about the more expensive gallery wraps.  My neighbors, who offered an interesting, though not inexpensive, array of canvas paintings as floormats, zeroed out on the day, and my neighbors on the other side (a fine jeweler and a glass artist) weren't raking it in, either.  All of us were hoping for better sales on Sunday.

But it wasn't to be--which brings me to my earlier rant about the weather forecast. 

At some point between Saturday morning and the weathercast on Sat night's 11 PM local news, the forecasters amped up the intensity of the Sunday forecast.  The 40% chance of thunderstorms morphed into "60% chance of severe storms...with possibility of hail and wind gusts of 50-60 mph."  Which completely changes the equation for us artists, especially after seeing some of the carnage from some of the recent AFI posts. 

Sunday hours were scheduled short, 11 AM to 5 PM, so I opted to get some early morning work done on my website and keep an eye on the forecast.  The 9:30 AM forecast hadn't changed, so I gritted my teeth and drove over to the show, where I found several of my neighbors in the parking lot comparing radar screens on their iPhones and shaking their heads glumly. 

"Storms are coming sometime between 10 and 11, and then again between 2 and 3," they said, confirming what I'd heard before I left the hotel.  "W e're packing up."  At that, dark clouds began to loom just to the southeast, and thunder rumbled.  After some commiseration, I walked up to a couple of the police officers, who'd heard the same thing from their captain, who was in a golf cart nearby. Asked the captain if he'd talked to the show organizers.  Yep, he said.  "There was some talk that they'd close the show around 3, but nothing was decided."   Given the forecast, a 3 PM shutdown would make it safer for the patrons, but wouldn't help the artists, and might put them right in the crosshairs of the worst weather.   

So I did the math:  60% chance of storms. Some chance that they'd have gusts up to 50-60 mph.  Some chance that if that happened, even with a Trimline and a foul-weather game plan, I'd have some work damaged.  Multiplied by the fact that I am 1,000 miles from my Florida home, and anything damaged would take me three weeks or more to replace...and in the meantime, I had 4-5 more shows to do up North. 

And so, for the first time in my show career, I packed up early.  And as if to taunt us early departers, the skies cleared by 11 AM, with hardly a drop of rain.  But by that time, of course, I had dollied most of my work to my van; by noon, the tent was disassembled, and by 12:30, the sun blazed hot on my van as I strapped my tent poles to the roof.  I decided to seek out the promoter to explain why I was leaving (she completely understood, so they're won't be a "penalty" if I decide to apply next year).  Then, I strolled the show for a few minutes to say good-byes.  I'm guessing that maybe 20 artists left early. And I couldn't help noticing how light the crowds were.  Who knows how many residents saw the forecast and stayed home?

I grew up in the Philly 'burbs, and I know that thunderstorms there are notoriously fickle.  Sometimes they wither and die; sometimes they move in unexpected directions.  And sometimes the dire forecasts, sadly, are right. 

So, despite the fact that my hotel room was only 10 miles away, I don't know to this moment if the forecasters were right or wrong, if the show closed early, or if the crowds took a second look at the skies and ventured forth to make it a successful day.  I know only that I've got a vague feeling of an opportunity lost, and I can't help feeling a bit like I--and the other artists who stayed, and the folks who cancelled their plans to attend--all might have gotten screwed by the forecaster. 

I'm 100% content with my decision.  But I'm curious: How much stock do you place in forecasts?  What do you see as a bigger threat: wind or rain?  And how much does the distance you've traveled to do a show weigh in your decision to stay or go? 

And, if you were at the show:  How WAS the weather, anyway??

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Comment by lori kay on August 24, 2011 at 6:07pm
Hi Geoff, I was in Northern IN doing a show and we lost Saturday due to a persistant all day rain which kept the crowds away. Sunday was PERFECT weather and the crowds were good but it didn't make up for loosing Saturday. In my observation neither rain or wind is good for us, if it rains the crowds stay home, if it's windy we can sustain financial damage. Either way we're screwed. Good luck with the rest of your northern shows.
Comment by Carol Gingrich on August 24, 2011 at 4:33pm
Hello, I was one of the crafters that stayed on Sunday and glad we did. The crowds were not strong but we had steady sales all day. By 2:30 the police were spreading the word of bad storms heading toward the show in approx. An hour, so by 3:30 we were packed and on our way home.
Comment by Geoff Coe on August 24, 2011 at 1:36pm
Jacquelyn:  I've got a ton of notecards and 8x10s, but I would be surprised if I did anything larger than that, though you never know.  I am crossing my fingers that they cancel the show, but if they don't I may bail out and head inland to my brother's home in central PA.
Comment by Geoff Coe on August 24, 2011 at 12:31pm
Sam:  Thanks for the update!  I saw Robin just as I was leaving.  She told me she was having a good sales day up to that point (I think it was around 1 PM).  I'm glad you guys made it out safe and dry.
I am supposed to be at a boardwalk show in Wildwood (the ultimate filler).  They have not cancelled the show yet, but I think at the very best there may be only 6 hours or so before Irene's outer rain bands begin stirring things up.  I would hope that the local government closes the beach to get people off the barrier island.
Comment by Samuel B. Whitehead on August 24, 2011 at 12:10pm

Geoff,

My wife and I were at Collingswood (I stopped by on Saturday AM to say hullo) and we stuck it out until about 2 PM, when the skies dramatically darkened.  Robin and I looked at each other and immediately started packing up.  Thanks to easy access to the Wawa parking lot, we were ready to leave by about 3PM, just as the first raindrops fell.  Sunday is always dodgy as far as weather at the Collingswood show, as we've been chased early by weather 3 of the last 4 years, only 2011 is the first time we escaped wearing dry clothing.  Next year, she plans to sell jewelry on Saturday, umbrellas and rainhats on Sunday.

Comment by Geoff Coe on August 23, 2011 at 9:04am

Hi Nels, thanks for the thoughts.  I've considered buying a camper, and probably will before next summer.

And I do have a Trimline.  I've had it withstanding 45-50 mph winds in Florida.  Your thoughts on the "big shows" mirror those shared by a mentor of mine in Marco Island.  This summer was designed to see if my work would sell consistently in the Northeast.  I've sold as well as anybody.  Next summer will involve some of the big shows elsewhere.  Stay tuned.

Comment by Nels Johnson on August 23, 2011 at 7:29am

Geoff.  Great insights,wry humor with a dose of hard reality thrown in, only thing better would be salted-rim margarita to suck on.

Two thoughts about your Northeast travails.  One, why not buy a small lightweight travel trailer (anywhere from a 13-footer to a 20-footer),  Cheaper than hotels, you can do work in them, you can even set up your booth beside them at a campground and frame and cut mats.  I traveled that way for seven summers all over the midwest, usually for five months.  Saw great places, camped,hiked, golfed and made lots of moola.  The hotels gotta be cutting into your profits.  Of course if you got friends to stay with, then that is always a deal-cutter.

Two.  Why are you wasting all your valuable time at some of these dinky little shows.  There is no great profit to be made at them.  Apply to some of the biggies, you will get in your share of them.  I just don't think your biz model will produce sufficient profits, especially in this economy.

As far as weather.  The weatherman usually is never right.  The way I look at it, I am set up, stocked and ready to sell.  So stay and weather the weather.  That is where a well made booth really stands out.  I got one of the best ever made in our biz, the original Newton's Porto-Canopy that then evolved into the Craft Hut.  Bought it in 1985 and that baby is still running.  I get new panels, covers and tarps from time to time.  But, the original trusses are beauties.  Been thru hurricanes, tornados, 60-mph winds and I am still standing.  That's all I am going to say.

Gotta get a shower, do some breakfeast and go play golf.  Got this weekend off and then it is AB&E then St. Louis.  Gotta cut a jillion mats.  Nels.

Comment by Geoff Coe on August 22, 2011 at 9:36pm

...and also that everyone got out without damage!

 

Comment by Geoff Coe on August 22, 2011 at 9:29pm
Thanks, Jacquelyn...I came looking for you right before I left but there were several customers in your booth at the time and I didn't want to interrupt.  I'm glad you had a fine show.
Comment by Geoff Coe on August 22, 2011 at 9:16pm
Thanks Ruth!  I've never done a show out there (in fact, never visited--long story!), so it's great to get a Pacific Northwest perspective on this.

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