Grand Rapids Comic Con 2015
Grand Rapids Comic Con is a rapidly growing midwestern comics and popular culture convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Last year they outgrew the DeltaPlex, so this year they moved downtown to the DeVos Place. This year's convention was held over the weekend of October 16-18, 2015, almost a month earlier than it was held in 2014 -- which is good given Michigan winters, which often begin while it's still astronomical autumn.
As I was researching the DeVos Place in preparation for the con, I realized why Grand Rapids had sounded so familiar when I became interested in Apollo I astronaut Roger Chaffee. Back in the 1990's, when I was becoming convinced I needed to go into business for myself, I did some research into business opportunities, including multi-level marketing systems. And the granddaddy of MLM's, AmWay, was founded by two families from Grand Rapids, the DeVos and Van Andels.
Because it's a good five to six hour drive from Indianapolis to Grand Rapids and vendor load-in starts at 1PM on Thursday, we took off on Wednesday morning and ate lunch on the road. We had a definite crosswind, but otherwise the drive was fairly easy and we made it in decent time. Because this was a new venue for us, we went over and scouted the area before going up to our hotel and getting checked in.
The Riverfront Hotel is a pretty nice independent hotel, but it's almost two miles north of the DeVos Place, too far to walk even on a nice day. However, they had the best rate of any place in the downtown area, so we decided to go ahead and commit to a daily commute.
We got checked in and hauled in our personal belongings in good time to have supper. Then we headed down to the pool area to use the hot tub, only to discover it was closed due to some maintenance issues. So we headed back to the room for the evening. I did some work on cleaning out my e-mail inbox, then got some work done on a short story for the Liberty Island Magazine Halloween short story contest before turning in for the night.
On Thursday we didn't need to be anywhere in the morning, and the hotel doesn't offer a complimentary breakfast, so we could take a more leisurely approach to getting up. I spent some time on the Internet, then did some more work on my story before heading to the DeVos Place.
We were hoping to get a good place in line, so we headed down at noon. We had a little trouble finding the proper street for our approach to the loading dock, so I was worrying we wouldn't get a good place in line. However, shortly after we pulled up to the loading dock, an official-looking dude came out and told us we couldn't start waiting until ten minutes before 1PM and would have to go elsewhere. We just went around the corner to the loading zone to sit and I worked on my con report.
Once the appointed time did come, we were told that we could not use the regular loading dock. Instead, we had to go down into the underground parking garage and use the freight elevator to take everything up to the exhibit hall. When we said that our van was too tall to fit, this guy said it would and that if we wouldn't obey, we wouldn't be allowed to unload at all.
So with much trepidation I drove the van down the ramp. The initial steep slope was pretty scary, but once we got down, the garage had a finished ceiling that made it clear we would not get caught on any surprise beams.
I found a parking spot close to the freight elevator, with a pillar right beside that would help make sure we didn't have someone pull in beside us and make it difficult to open the side door. While my husband went to get us checked in and look for a flatbed cart, I got our own cart out of the van. That involved getting a bunch of boxes out of the way, but since we were inside, I didn't have to worry about stuff getting wet and was able to just leave it piled beside the pillar.
As I got up to the exhibit hall floor with our first load of merchandise, my husband got us our badges. Then we headed over to our booths to drop off the first load of merchandise. My husband managed to snag a flatbed cart from the convention center and soon he was hauling one cart while I loaded the other.
Once we got all our merchandise unloaded, I took the van out to find parking elsewhere. Here it wasn't as essential at places where they needed to get vehicles out and free up space as rapidly as possible. However, as expensive as their garage parking was, I really didn't want to stay there any longer than strictly necessary.
I found a city-owned lot just a few blocks north, then hiked back to get to work setting up. We put together our structures and started filling them. However, there was just so much to do that we ended up running out of time.
When I had walked back from the parking lot, it hadn't seemed like that much of a hike. But at night, pulling our luggage cart, it became a whole lot longer. By the time we got there, my husband was really struggling.
By the time we got back to our hotel, we were both feeling really tired and miserable. We could've really done with a good soak in the hot tub right then, but the problems with it had still not been resolved. So there was nothing to do but head back to our room and wind down before turning in for the night.
Friday morning we got up to another breakfast of bagels. Then we headed back down to the DeVos Place to finish setting up. We got done in good time, and even had some time to look around the room before we needed to be back at our booth to begin sales hours.
After the wild success of 2014, when the crowd simply overwhelmed the DeltaPlex, this year's crowds proved small and disappointing. Worse, sales were lukewarm, when we were hoping to use them to catch up to where we needed to be financially. But some other vendors told us not to worry too much, because Saturday tickets had already sold out and there should be a good crowd.
So we headed back to the hotel trying to maintain a hopeful mood. To our happy surprise, the hot tub was working again, so we took a good soak before turning in for the night.
Saturday morning we had our breakfast and headed back downtown to get our tables open for business. I did a little more looking around the dealers' room before we opened.
We were getting better traffic than Friday, but sales continued to be slow. I noticed a lot of window-shopping, which was quite frustrating. Also, a lot of people seemed unsure that both halves of our setup belonged to the same business, given how many kept asking permission to move back and forth. I decided we needed to think of ways to tie the two halves together into a single visual presentation in the future.
To further complicate things, about midway through the afternoon an icky plasticky odor started wafting through the exhibit hall. I don't know whether a vendor was doing something that produced smelly vapors (iron-on t-shirt transfers, etc.) or the venue was having a problem, but it was just strong enough to be unpleasant, but not enough that they were going to take action about it.
By the time we closed for the evening, I was feeling guardedly hopeful about sales. As I crossed the bridge over the Grand River, I looked up at the full moon shining overhead and on impulse made a pledge to Roger Chaffee that we would find a way to defeat death and get him his spaceflight, because I know he deserves to fly in space.
Getting the van out of the Schrieber Street parking lot proved a bit more difficult than I'd expected, thanks to the pillars for the elevated highway. But I got it out safely and we got back to the hotel for supper and a good soak in the hot tub. I also started putting together some restock orders and did a little writing before turning in for the night.
Sunday morning we had breakfast and headed back to the DeVos Place in hope of a strong finish to the con. As we were driving along Monroe Street, we discovered a marathon in progress. It took us quite a while to find a detour around it and ended up having to use the Schrieber Street parking lot again.
We decided to go ahead and put down our deposit on next year's space, hoping that the convention would grow into its new venue. Then another dealer bought both boxes of our clearance books, and we bought some tiny bento boxes off a third dealer.
Sales continued to be slow, so we started boxing up some of the low-priority items in the middle of the afternoon. But even with a helper to pack t-shirts and push the cartloads of merchandise, it still took us until 9PM to get everything out of there. It didn't help that I was getting a lot of stuff in the wrong order and was having to stand around waiting far too often because I couldn't pack this or that yet.
When we got back to the hotel, we headed down to the pool for a good, long soak in the hot tub. While we were there, we talked to some people who'd run in the marathon. Then we turned in for the night.
Monday morning we carried our stuff out and got checked out of the hotel. We stopped in Kalamazoo and made a decent-sized deposit before continuing to Indianapolis. We made good time and were even able to unload some personal stuff before heading down to the meal.
Copyright 2016 by Leigh Kimmel
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Last updated October 19, 2016.