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Gem shows’ vendors upbeat

Citizen Staff Writer



The tents are mostly up for the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, and so are expectations for some vendors.

There will be a handful more vendors at the Tucson Convention Center gem show than last year, and at least one hotel along Interstate 10 booked more rooms this year than last for the nation’s largest gathering of mineral vendors.

Dealers from around the world come here to buy wholesale, and the public shows up in droves for retail shows.

Two bead shows opened Wednesday, but most shows don’t start until Saturday (see list in Calendar section). The shows also end on different dates, but all will close by Feb. 15. The 55th annual Tucson Gem & Mineral Show runs Feb. 12 to 15 at the TCC, 260 S. Church Ave.

Jay Gehring, 68, owns Village Originals, a mineral dealer based in Orlando, Fla. Gehring has been in Tucson each of the past 36 years to sell to the public and dealers. He is not about to let the economy get him down.

“We’re not going to participate in the recession or depression or whatever it is,” Gehring said while supervising the setup of his tent at the Tucson Electric Park Mineral Show at the Kino Sports Complex, 2500 E. Ajo Way.

Because his goods – and most of the wares for sale at the gem shows – are impulse buys, the mineral business has been hit hard by economic woes this past year. But Gehring decided to buck the trend, keeping all of the 200 employees across the nation who depend on him and even expanding his inventory to include Indonesian petrified wood, which he has never sold before.

“We anticipate the show to be down 20 to 30 percent, but we’ve gone the opposite, so our tent’s half again as big as it was,” he said Monday.

Village Originals has a store at Tempe’s Arizona Mills, the largest shopping mall in Arizona. Despite the recession, 2008 was a good year for Gehring in Tempe, he said.

“We were up for the Christmas season (over 2007). I don’t think anybody else in the mall can say that,” he said.

Because all of the 45 shows are independent, it is hard to get a handle on how many vendors will be here, said Kimberly Schmitz, communications director for the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“There are thousands of them,” Schmitz said. “We have show owners with waiting lists of vendors waiting to get into their shows.”

The booths and tents will offer everything from Spanish doubloons (coins) and Indonesian carvings to a vast array of decorative mineral spheres, huge crystals and fossils. Prices range from a few cents to more than $1 million.

There will also be free classes at many shows to teach folks how to make jewelry or shape stone, Schmitz said.

Tucsonan Zee Haag, who deals mainly in high-end art pieces made with huge mineral chunks and metal, gets about 40 percent of his annual income during the Tucson show. He doesn’t think it will be a bad year, necessarily, but this year he is adding a two-day auction to his operation behind Tucson Electric Park to help bring in sales. The auction will be at 10 a.m. Feb. 7 and 8 behind TEP. Haag’s prices range from $300 to more than $1 million.

“I like to keep positive. My feeling is the competition will be stronger, but people will be here (to buy),” he said.

Haag and Thomas Lindgren, a dealer who specializes in high-end fossils mostly used in architecture or interior design, agreed the high-end dealers are somewhat insulated.

“Anything under $500, I think that market has been hurt,” said Lindgren, who owns GeoDecor and has set up shop at The Mineral and Fossil Co-op, 1635 N. Oracle Road.

On Wednesday, GeoDecor crews were assembling a 28-foot-long dinosaur fossil ($450,000) after a delay at U.S. Customs. The company also has a 7,000-pound meteorite from Russia ($3.5 million) and a replica of the largest shark jaws in the world (complete with real fossil teeth, $1.25 million).

Attendance at some shows might dip this year, because some dealers are sending fewer buyers here – maybe just one or two instead of the usual five, but overall Schmitz expects a decent year. She expects a normal year because dealers normally don’t skip major shows even in bad years.

There are three entirely new shows this year: the Rock, Gem & Lapidary Show, 1201 N. Main Ave.; the Tucson Bead Show, 445 S. Alvernon Way; and the Manning House Bead Show, 450 W. Paseo Redondo.

Gem Ride scaled back

Budget cuts in the city and the visitors bureau have hit the gem show shuttle system, Gem Ride, which last year offered service to outlying areas, Schmitz said.

“This year it’s been pared down, and it’s primarily along the Interstate 10 corridor,” she said.

The shuttle’s 12 buses will circulate continuously among shows in midtown, along I-10 and at Kino Sports Complex. The city-owned shuttles are free and offer a quick way around the shows without the hassles of walking long distances or reparking your car.

Parking for the shuttles is available on Congress Street west of the Santa Cruz River (west of I-10), at the northeast corner of 22nd Street and I-10 and the Tucson Expo Center, 3750 E. Irvington Road. Waits between shuttles should be about 25 minutes or less.

Each stop will have staff available to help with directions or to answer questions.

More inside

• Full map and list of shows and the dates they will be open in today’s Calendar section.

• Map and stops for parking shuttles to gem show sites are on Page 6A.

For a list of shows and dates they will be open, see Calendar.

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