The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 28, 2013

Angry outdoor show vendors awaiting refunds

John Finnerty
CNHI

HARRISBURG — The state Department of Agriculture got its more than $500,000 rental fee for the Farm Show complex in Harrisburg in advance from the promoter who scuttled the Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show, which had been billed as the largest outdoors show in North America.

Reed Exhibitions announced last week that it was indefinitely postponing the show in the wake of controversy over a plan to ban so called “modern sporting rifles” from the event.

Now vendors who paid thousands to reserve space at the show and stock up to do business there are waiting to see if Reed Exhibitions will refund their money while they scramble to figure out how to get rid of inventory.

A boycott organizer said Monday that vendors have been told that they will receive refunds for the money they paid to reserve space at the Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show. There had been preliminary discussions about a class-action lawsuit to get that money back, but if the refunds are delivered it is unlikely that there will be any lawsuit, said Tom McConnell of Cresson.

McConnell, a member Cresson Borough Council, spearheaded the boycott after Reed Exhibitions announced that it was barring assault rifles from the event due to concerns about unwelcome publicity in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

The outdoors show was scheduled to start on Saturday. It would have featured 1,200 vendors and attracted 200,000 visitors over nine days.

McConnell, who operates a website called mynortheastoutdoors.com, said he initially had been using the Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show website to advertise for his website.

The promoters’ decision outraged many vendors who felt that it violated the spirit of the Second Amendment. To protest, vendors and speakers began to drop out, even if doing so meant that they would be forfeiting the money they had paid to reserve space, McConnell said. By last count, more than 350 vendors had announced that they would boycott the event, McConnell said.

Samantha Krepps, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, said that the contract with Reed Exhibitions required that the promoter pay the entire $583,255 rental fee a month in advance of the event, so the state had received its payment before the show was postponed.

It is not clear what will happen if Reed tries to reschedule the show.

“All matters related to the enforcement of the contract are under review by the (agriculture) department’s legal office,” Krepps said in an email on Monday.

Tourism officials have estimated that the loss of the show could cost the region around Harrisburg $125 million in direct and indirect spending associated with spending by visitors and vendors.

For vendors the losses in many cases extend beyond the cost of reserving space at the show.

“There are mom-and-pop shops that take out $20,000 to $30,000 in loans so they can buy merchandise to sell at the show,” McConnell said. With the show canceled, “They are stuck with $30,000 worth of merchandise.”

Vendors must pay $2,300 to reserve 5-foot by 10-foot spaces, the smallest booths available.

With numerous vendors occupying much larger areas, many vendors spent $5,000 to $10,000 to lease space at the show and the largest vendors will easily spend $30,000 to $40,000, McConnell said.

It is unclear if there are any discussions about rescheduling the event. The marquee at the Farm Show complex on Monday said the outdoors show was “cancelled.”

McConnell is trying to organize a “virtual” outdoors show on his website to create a venue for some of the vendors who would otherwise have been at the Harrisburg show.

McConnell is offering free space in the virtual show during the time period when the outdoors event was scheduled to run.

Krepps said that while the Agriculture Department received its payment, any disputes over money paid by would-be vendors to Reed Exhibitions are between the vendors and the promoter.

“The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center’s contract is with Reed,” Krepps said. “Reed is responsible for its vendors.”

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.