I think I gave the wrong impression with my last blog entry where I aired my frustration with setting up at the National. I need to clear the air. I do not hate the National, to the contrary, I love the National. To me, it is heaven on Earth. But there are a few aspects I dislike -- loading in and loading out of the Stephens Center -- it just plain sucks.
In that last blog, I described my usual situation when loading in. Guess what? Wednesday morning went exactly how I predicted it would go with a few wrinkles. First off, I was not expecting such intense heat and humidity from Mother Nature. Ugh!
My wife said I looked like I was hurting after I loaded up the car early Wednesday morning.... and I was. I chugged some coffee, hoping it would bring me back to life. It helped.
I made it to the Stephens Center around 11:30 a.m. and as I predicted, I could not get in, and had to wait quite a while to get my badge. Once I began loading my wares into the convention center, I was shocked to see I was about the only person loading in, most every other dealer/vendor was already set up and conducting business. Usually, there are still a large number of vendors loading in on Wednesday morning. Seems like my group needs to start paying that extra fee to set up on Tuesday morning. I think if we load in and set up on Tuesday it will alleviate a lot of the Wednesday morning stress.
Not only were just about all the other booths set up on this Wednesday morning, there was a large number of customers in the building well before the VIP entry-time of 3 p.m. When I wheeled my cart up to my booth, Dave was already set up and making deals. I think Dave got in real early and was able to pick up our badges. Next time I need to coordinate with Dave!
Anyway, the place was hopping. I think I have set up now at seven or eight Nationals and the place has never been so active on a Wednesday morning.
So load in was its usual headache but I was not prepared for the next headache which PJ tried to tell me about when he brought out my badge. You see, we get the same booth every time the National is in Chicago. It is located at the back of the show in front of a shuttered concession stand. The booth is out of the way and NOT a prime location but we like it because we usually have a lot of extra space enabling us to spread out.
This year, however, the Rosemont Exposition Service, RES for short, decided to place a bar in front of the concession stand cutting off half of our space. Ugh! PJ tried to convince the RES, along with the folks that run the National, and just about anybody who might have some authority, to move the bar. Kudos to PJ. Your efforts were greatly appreciated! Unfortunately, the RES was not concerned that they swiped our space and refused to move the bar. They did not open the bar on Wednesday and said we could temporarily place tables in front of the bar for Wednesday only. We did not bother and spent some time brainstorming to come up with a solution for the layout of our booth for the five-day show.
Essentially we had half of the space we normally receive and divided it up fairly between the troops. I had brought out 15 display cases but was only able to place out seven of them. I had also been hustling like mad during the weeks leading up to the show to price cards and was only able to place out half of my newly priced cards.
It was disappointing to say the least but I freakin' love the National and was just happy to be there. Sure it would have been great to have 15 display cases like I planned but life does not always go according to plan and you have to be able to adapt or you will just go crazy.
PJ initially was going to bail but thankfully he stayed. Me and Scott took it in stride. The shortened booth did not effect Dave because he just needs eight to ten feet of space and he was good either way. Though, we did give Dave some good-natured ribbing which I don't think Dave liked. Sorry Dave. Love you brother!
Another problem that happens every year is that the venue provides each booth with three tables. Someone swiped two of our tables before we arrived. All we have to do is complain to the promoters and they will find us some tables but it is always a hassle. I also brought nine extra tables thinking we were going to have this huge space. I was only able to place out three of them.
Once the booth was set up, I had to store six extra tables and eight extra display cases under the tables I had previously set up. It sure was a tight squeeze. I normally have a few bins under the tables that I use to store cards, paper, pens, tape, post-it notes and all sorts of stuff that I will need during the show. Unfortunately, I did not have this useful cubby-hole type space to utilize because I had to jam the extra tables and display cases there. I now realize how important it is to have this cubby-hole type space during the show. We're practically living in the convention center for five days and need a certain organization to make it flow properly. We were definitely handicapped this go around. I kept telling myself to just suck it up.
I probably was not fully set up until well after 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Once open for business, I was beat. It was crazy hot and humid in the building. I brought a little cooler and had some water but I was fried.
Once the VIPs were let in at 3 p.m. the building quickly filled up with people. A big crowd for a Wednesday. A big crowd adding to the heat. It was nasty in there. I was lethargic. I did not move much from my chair over the next five hours.
Sales were SLOW! It felt like a Sun-Times show where I normally just sit back and watch hundreds, probably thousands, of people walk by and barely give my seven display cases a glance. Man, I had such good stuff in there. It was a little disheartening.
As the hobby has thrived during the past year or so, the crowds on the first day of the National were as large as I expected but no one was spending any money with me. Weird! As you know, after a six month hiatus last year due to the pandemic, I've been back at it since October with shows and my pop-up shops being pretty great. This first day of the 2021 National was well below expectations as far as sales were concerned.
On the buying front -- NOTHING, NADA, nobody tried to sell me anything. I could not believe it. Low sales, no buys. I suppose I could have wandered the show and bought stuff from dealers but I was so hot, so tired, and so disappointed that I just could not bring myself to leave my seat.
I paid my brother Jon to help me at the show but told him to go home around 6 p.m. and that I did not need him until Sunday. Man, alive! Expectations dashed! I was more than ready to leave when the show shut down at 8 p.m. However, I was absolutely starving and so were my mates Scott, Jim and Dannielle who were staying over at my house.
Scott parked in the CTA lot while I parked in the convention center parking garage. When I got to my car, I observed lines of cars, none moving. I feared the worse. I pulled into the line and sat there for about 15 minutes then pulled back into a parking spot and called Scott to come pick me up.
Initially, I wanted to go eat at the Omega Restaurant in Niles that is open 24 hours. On a Wednesday night near Rosemont there are not a lot of options for late-night dining. The Omega is one of my go-to places. But when Scott picked me up, I observed the "Murray Brother's Caddyshack Bar and Grill" nearby and urged to group to eat there. They agreed. Just our luck, it was closed for a private party.
I then suggested the Denny's down River Road near Lawrence. I hoped it was still open as the Denny's near my house closed down during the Pandemic. Our luck changed and Denny's was open. Unfortunately, they had a skeleton crew of employees and it took a while. My food was good. As we completed our meal, PJ walked in. He was spending the night at a hotel next to Denny's.
We made it to my house around 10 p.m. I think we were all a little wired and I showed off some cards and publications from the Fat Daddy vault. I don't think I fell asleep until 12:30 a.m. But sleep I did and failed to hear a major thunderstorm that took down quite a few tree branches in the neighborhood.
So, the first day of the National was kind of a crappy but I have to say there were some bright spots. It was really great to see old acquaintances. It was awesome to see Harry who I have known for years from the Orland show. Apparently, Harry moved to California which explains his absence from Orland. Harry is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and shares my enthusiasm for vintage sports cards.
Then I saw Mike from Cleveland, who I met years ago at the Strongsville, Ohio, vintage show. Mike knew me before I knew him as he is a fan of this blog. Mike sets up near Dave and I at the Strongsville show. It is always great to see a friendly face when setting up out of town. Mike is another one of those great guys I have been lucky to meet in my sports card adventures.
I ran into quite a few people that I had not seen in a while and it was great to catch up which was the best part of the first day of the National. My Day 2 blog is coming soon.
Pictured above is a photo from my booth on Wednesday afternoon. Our neighbors, as in 2019, was PWCC. In 2019 they were a good neighbor, not so much in 2021 but more on that later.