Grand Rapids Comic Con 2014
Grand Rapids Comic Con is a new convention that started in 2013 with a single day at a relatively small venue and did so well that they went straight to a three-day convention, held over the weekend of November 21-23, 2014 at the Delta Plex Convention Center. When I found a flier for it at Indiana Comic Con, I knew exactly one thing about Grand Rapids, namely, that it was the hometown of Apollo 1 astronaut Roger Chaffee. However, I talked to a few people at Indiana Comic Con about the event, and they all assured me that it would be worth looking into, so we sent in our money.
When we originally made our plans, we'd been expecting to have an overnight stay with family in Fort Wayne on the trip up and the trip back. However, in June we had a death in the family and the situation changed such that our plans were no longer an option. As a result, we changed our hotel reservation so we'd add another night on each end of our stay.
So we took off on Wednesday, after having unloaded our stuff from Windycon and reloaded without all the books, and with a bunch of porcelains and other merchandise apt to appeal to anime fans. We stopped briefly at the Sears store in Castleton to pick up our new glasses at the optical department and to get them fitted. Then we continued on our way to Grand Rapids.
It felt really weird to come to Fort Wayne and drive right by instead of stopping. It felt even more weird to drive past the hospital on the north side of town where we'd spent far too many painful hours in June. But we forged on into Michigan, at which point we started getting snow, bringing back unpleasant memories from ConFusion. However, the roads didn't start becoming a problem until we actually got into Grand Rapids, at which point we got into a nasty traffic snarl and were stuck just creeping along.
By the time we got to the hotel, I was pretty well worn out, and one look at the place told me we'd made a big mistake. We'd had some doubts, since we'd had a bad experience with another one in the same chain, but it was the closest to the Delta Plex and the cheapest in the area, so with an unknown convention we decided to give it a chance. However, I could see from one look that this place practically exuded crummy. There'd been no effort whatsoever to clear the parking lot, and the from desk area had a fleabag vibe that immediately turned me off. Worse, the front desk clerk fancied himself a comedian, and was living proof of John Scalzi's axiom that the failure mode of clever is asshole.
When we first got our stuff into our sleeping room, we were so badly chilled that the heat was welcome. But by bedtime, it was rapidly becoming oppressive. I turned the heat back several times, but couldn't get it down to a reasonable level and ended up spending the night in a pool of sweat and not getting more than bits and snatches of sleep.
On Thursday morning we resolved to complain about the unbearable heat to the front desk, and were told to just turn off the heat until it reached a bearable level. Supposedly the hotel had a complimentary breakfast, but it was pathetic. There was some stale cereal, and the milk was so sour it was gag-inducing. We decided we'd just eat the food we'd brought with us the rest of our stay.
Because the schedule we'd been given said that load-in wouldn't start until mid-afternoon, we settled in to kill time until then. I got out a novel I'd been trying to rewrite and started working on it, until I checked my e-mail and discovered they'd managed to get access to the Delta Plex early and were starting load-in early. So we scrambled to get going, and in the process discovered I'd forgotten to flip the windshield wipers up on the van. As a result, I knocked one loose in the process of getting the windshield cleared off, and couldn't get it to snap on properly.
I got it on well enough that it would hold and we headed over to the Delta Plex, a process complicated by the snow. We made a wrong turn and almost got stuck on an unplowed side road, and when we did arrive, we had to find the loading dock. At least we were able to get some good helpers to load in, but the snow on the ground made it difficult to push the carts. As a result, we were still setting up when they shooed us out and closed for the evening.
We almost didn't get up the driveway to our hotel because it was so slick. I resolved that the rest of the time I'd take it in low instead of drive in hopes of getting better traction. Once we managed to get into a parking spot without getting too badly stuck or sliding into anybody else's car, the guy a couple doors down from us tried to get our wiper back on but determined that we needed new wipers. So we turned in for the night and tried to get some sleep.
On Friday we got up and had some breakfast food we'd brought. Then we headed up to the nearby WalMart and bought ourselves a new set of wiper blades. The guy at the automotive department installed them, so we knew they were on properly.
Then we headed back to the Delta Plex and finished setting up. We were actually able to get done in time that we could walk around and take a look at the rest of the dealers' room. I was surprised at the number of dealers who were waiting right down to the last minute to load in.
Then we decided to get back to our own tables, and not a moment too soon. Some of the other dealers bought some stuff from us before we even opened. Once the doors actually opened, the traffic was pretty much nonstop all day, and we sold a fair amount of stuff.
When the dealers' room closed for the night, we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. At least the parking lot was more manageable, but I don't think it was from anything the hotel staff did.
On Saturday we grabbed a bite of breakfast and cleared a fresh accumulation of snow off the van before heading back to the Delta Plex. We were concerned about bad roads delaying us, but once we got out of the hotel parking lot, everything was fine and we actually got there early and had to wait for them to unlock the doors. With the cold weather, that was not exactly a pleasant experience.
Once we got in and got our tables opened for business, I took a look around and met a watchmaker who offered me a good price for some broken watches. He takes them apart and turns them into steampunk jewelry.
Then I headed back to our tables to start doing business. Attendance was great, and the aisles were crowded with traffic. About the middle of the afternoon we hit capacity and they had to close the doors for the day, and I don't think we could've kept up with business if we'd had much more in the way of customers. We barely had time to take care of our bodily necessities.
In the evening we headed back to our room and counted our money, and were happy to see that we'd definitely made our expenses. We did a little stuff on the Internet and I made some notes on a new novel I'm hoping to write soon.
On Sunday we ate some breakfast and headed back to the Delta Plex for our final day of sales. We were particularly concerned about the weather forecast, which was for heavy rain coming in right about the time we'd be loading out. Not exactly what one wants to hear when carrying out merchandise that's apt to be damaged by water. As a result, we decided we'd need to start packing up early, although we weren't supposed to actually start true tear-down until after the close of business.
As it turned out, we were selling well enough that I tried to delay the start of packing as long as I could in order to avoid losing sales. However, there was no way we were going to sell out of everything, so I knew we had to get our remaining merchandise packed up and get loaded out, especially since we were unable to get anybody to help us in spite of having our help-wanted sign out all day.
The rain came in on schedule, and it was so heavy that I was soon soaked all the way through my coat. I tried to keep from getting the merchandise wet, but I know that I tracked a lot of water into the van in the process of loading out. At least we didn't have a lot of wind, so I didn't have that much trouble keeping the merchandise tarped as I hauled it out. At least we'd sold enough merchandise that I had a bunch of empty boxes and was able to get a bunch of them nested to take up less space in the van.
Even so, by the time we finished and headed back to the hotel, I was soaked to the skin. I just changed into my pajamas and hung everything up to dry, then did some bookwork before turning in for the night.
On Monday we got the tarp shaken out and properly folded, then got our personal possessions out of the room and checked out. I was quite glad to see the last of that fleabag and I will never stay in another American Best Value Inn unless I literally have no other choice.
Because we'd taken in so much money, I didn't want to carry it all the way home. Since there was a branch of our bank right there in Grand Rapids, we stopped by it and made a huge deposit before we left town. The drive to Lansing wasn't bad, but when we got on I-69 and started heading south, we ran into horrible high winds. I had to constantly fight just to stay on the road. By the time we finally got home, I was worn out, but I had to carry in our personal possessions and call the electric company to get someone out to deal with a huge tree limb that had come down. It had caught our power line, and while it hadn't torn it completely down and we still had electricity, it was so low that someone could've walked right into it and gotten electrocuted.
Even with all the trouble we had with the weather, we felt fairly positive about the convention. When we heard that they'd relocated to the DeVos Place, a larger convention center in downtown Grand Rapids, for the 2015 show and would be moving to an October weekend, we gladly put down our money to sell at it.
Copyright 2015 by Leigh Kimmel
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Last updated January 17, 2015.