Apr 11, 2005, 11:27 PM
Post #1 of 1
I wanted this to be an upbeat (upBead ?) message, but the more I wrote, and revised, (pardon any typos/spelling errors) it got more depressing, as things I've wanted to write, or express for years started to come out. (You'll have to read all the way to the end for a glimmer of hope....)
Pittsburgh & Conventions
I love Pittsburgh, but it's changing. It's always been an odd city, trying to be a city, yet remain a small town.
I'm not a native Pittsburgher, but I have been here since I was 12, and though I moved around a lot for school, I've been back in the area for 15 years. In that time, I've seen a lot happen, and change. Some of it saddens me.
In general, Pittsburghers tolerate too much, expecting it to clear up, or get better "eventually" when they should get riled up and irritated NOW. For example, road closings, detours, construction, potholes, etc, make us numb to immediate fixes, since we "know" that eventually, when the road falls apart, it will be fixed. And the traffic cones and lights will be moved somewhere else. That "wait it out" attitude has spread to other issues and problems, some of which are starting to fester and boil.
In the past few weeks a few things have happened that caused me to stop and think about the city really, really hard, and the attempts to bring a bead convention in, or to even set one up for local people and designers.
Most of our customers would *LOVE* to have a bead show, or convention, come to town, on a regular basis. Not a little 10 vendor show, or over-priced hype-driven media event, but a real bead show, with real deals, real excitement, and 30+ vendors and exhibitors, with classes, workshops and demonstrations. A real "happening."
And there is no reason why it can't happen. We have a draw area of over 2 million people, closer to 3. Pittsburgh has a lot of talented glass bead makers, and people who work in other media -- metal, poly clay, and bone and wood. We have a lot of talented designers -- none of whom can't get space at any major local craft/artisan show (because the organizers preferentially select out of towners), and who thus end up going to other places -- NY, Chicago, Tennessee, even out west, to display their wares -- when right here at home there is a demand.
On top of that, we have a city with a disaster of an infrastructure. As Pittsburghers, we are used to it, and have come to deal with it as second nature, but anyone from out of town is driven crazy by it. Bad roads, mis-marked signs, detours to no where, closed roads for no reason, NO signs, and other things we take for granted, since we know we have to "turn there" or avoid "that road."
Pittsburgh is a very strange city. (And it's not really the "people" -- locals, or even extended locals -- but the government and bureaucracy that have done it.). It's almost like "Pittsburgh" is an entity separate from "the people," which is made up of elected and appointed officials and hired workers.
Pittsburgh has gone out of its way to court disaster with bad city budgets, overpriced graft-driven developments, and limited use structures, funded with tax breaks to business that get up and leave, or drive other business away. The people get left out of these "deals." In this case, "the people" include all the small businesses which by all counts, have ALWAYS driven the American economy and workforce. Small business doesn't seem to be wanted in Pittsburgh, and we can't figure out why.
Our police force has been cut, clean up crews are non-existent, and Pittsburgh is at the top of the graffiti "tag list" now. Once that starts, the "slum" look sets in, and starts to feed on itself. We used to be a clean, neat city. We are looking like a real mess now.
Yet, we have a new convention center, two new stadiums (or is it three?), a down town that was cleaned out of the mom and pop shops in favor of big chain stores that are closing down, and moving out, leaving our downtown a ghost town. Chain stores have no loyalty -- they only look at bottom lines. PEOPLE have loyalty. They will stick with a neighborhood through thick and thin, good and bad, and ride out the storms. Chain stores simply close, and leave if the bottom line falls.
We have a public school system that has to give kids a week of coaching before letting them take (or is it fake?) the achievement tests. Our children watch videos in class (not science or educational, but Disney, and the current animated feature of the week). They get huge amounts of homework, without any relevance to what was SUPPOSED to be done in class, and lug back packs full of books to and from each day, for no apparent purpose except to keep them worn down. There is no enthusiasm for learning, because the teachers are not teaching. I don't care what the reasons are, THEY ARE NOT TEACHING. My child in 7th grade knows less about our country and the world than I did in 3rd grade. But, she can make pretty pictures of math diagrams, which are totally useless when trying to make change. (To her credit, she can make change, but that was not learned in school.)
Our neighborhoods, which were once proud, ethnic and cultural centers, are running down, pressured by the lack of any support from the city -- which was too busy going bankrupt with (shall we dare say corrupt?) deals that were not in the best interest of the city at large.
Ok. What does that have to do with conventions? Especially Bead ones? Well, any city that as a social group that would tolerate the above, is not going to tolerate (host, attend, etc) conventions. We are a good concert city, but a really lousy convention city.
The convention center down town is too expensive for anything but nationally organized events, willing to take a loss, or at least a risk. The Monroeville Expo Mart is a black-cloud covered disaster. We've been at 4 conventions there in different fields (collecting, trading cards/hobbies, beads/sewing, etc) and not one of them was a success. And, I didn't have to cover travel or lodging expenses! I've done 7 (?) out of town conventions for different things (computers, hobbies, BBS, etc) and while I wouldn't rave over the successes, (since I tended to go to excesses -- even buying a 27ft RV to travel in) they more than covered my expenses, and were worth attending. Locally???? :( Our customers seem to agree, the mention of the Expo Mart seems to bring sick expressions to most faces, sometimes anger.
There are few other venues for hosting a convention, especially for out of town type events.
Pittsburgh has limited access to key areas, and always closes the roads down on weekends, and currently is closing roads -- both the main access and alternate access -- at the same time!! My parents sat in traffic last MONDAY yet, at a stand still, for an hour and a half, on 79, while road crews set up the diversion lanes AT RUSH HOUR! This should have been done at 11pm, after traffic was gone!
The 79/279 interchange, and 22/60 are now under construction on the way to the airport, or into town, however you want to view it.
There is also talk of closing the tunnel again.
While the roads to Monroeville from Pittsburgh seem unlikely to be closed, getting to Pittsburgh from anywhere else, is, well, impossible.
So... where does that leave us for conventions and events where margins are slim, and success is measured by the number of attendees and bulk sales?
I've figured out a few potential locations, but with road closings, large sections of the Pittsburgh area couldn't get to them. If you move the location, then other sections, or the Turnpike, or such, can't get to them. Since weekend road closings are random, it's like rolling craps to take a chance on hosting a convention, hoping the roads won't be closed that weekend.
But, despite this, we are still trying. We are taking names, collecting information, and evaluating options carefully. We are trying to get local crafts people interested first, so we have a "home" base of glass bead makers, jewelry makers and designers, chain maille workers, and other related crafts. To that, add what outside vendors we can. Some things are happening, and we are working on co-operating a space that could be used for classes, workshops, and regular shows. It's not easy. It's chicken and the egg -- have to have a show, to get a show, have to have a space, to afford a space, have to have vendors signed up to get vendors to sign up, etc, in circles.
The first hurdle is affordable, accessible, weather-proof space, and we've been working on that for 2 years.
So stay tuned. Send us any comments, ideas, or requests to be a vendor, for "if and when."
PUGDOG's Rock & Bead Shop
Pittsburgh, PA 15217