Normally I wouldn’t review a show I’ve already reviewed. However, this year’s DC Pen Show was a bit different, as the hotel was undergoing renovations. So, I’d like to address how Barbara and Jeff, the main show organizers, handled the inconvenience. I’d also like to revisit some of my concerns from last year.
Overall, I was very pleased with the show organization. I think the show organizers did an excellent job given the difficulties they faced. They definitely seem to be learning from mistakes and oversights, and I give them immense credit for that.
Note: I’ll be discussing the show layout. For those of you who didn’t attend the DC Pen Show, you can take a look at the PDF version of the interactive show map, created by Alexander Kramer (pen_show_maps on Instagram) for the DC Pen Show organizers, to get an idea of the layout.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. The Falls Church Marriott Fairview Park is currently undergoing major renovations. Based on emails from the show organizers to attendees, the hotel didn’t inform the show organizers of the ongoing (and delayed) construction until April. While that seems like it’s early, that’s awfully late for moving such a large event. Especially as hotel rooms had been made available months earlier.
The construction caused quite a few differences from previous years:
- There was an extended walk to get from the parking garage to the main hotel entrance, and parking near the entrance was minimal.
- Show organizers requested that all tickets be purchased online to limit the lines waiting to get into the show.
- There was no small ballroom this year, so, instead, the show was broken up into upstairs and downstairs sections.
- There wasn’t an open hotel restaurant. The temporary bar area served as bar, lounge, and restaurant, as you could order food at specific times.
The extended walk was definitely an accessibility issue if you didn’t have someone who could drop you off at the front door. The walk from the garage to the entrance to the show was longer than a circuit around the perimeter of the upstairs show area.
How It Was Handled
There were signs for the DC Pen Show all along the route from parking garage to hotel entrance starting on Thursday. Starting Friday, there were additional signs inside the hotel to point visitors to the entrance to the pen show. While I think it would have been beneficial for the show organizers to have sent out an email to attendees with a mention of the long walk, I understand that they were likely completely focused on final plans at that point. I don’t think there’s much else they could have done.
On July 15, the show organizers announced that tickets were on sale for the show and that all tickets must be purchased online. This was “to decrease the long lines Saturday and Sunday mornings.” And, honestly, that was a good idea, as a line from the pen show registration desk would have quickly gotten in the way of hotel registration (which was only about 20 feet away) and, potentially would have run right out the front doors.
How It Was Handled
There was an impossible-to-miss sign near the garage from Friday to Sunday that stated you needed to buy your tickets online. This included a QR code and URL (for those who were unfamiliar with QR codes). It worked well. Every time I passed that table, people were stopped, purchasing their tickets. I don’t know if there was a sign at the main hotel entrance for people who weren’t coming from the garage. I didn’t pay close enough attention.
The main room was mostly unaffected by the construction. However, those who would typically be in the small room (mostly indie makers) were instead in the downstairs area. Some indie makers pulled out of the show at the last minute citing concerns about getting found in the new area. However, when I talked to some makers on Saturday and Sunday, they didn’t think being downstairs caused any issues in terms of sales.
Rather, those who were in the back corner and hallway of the upstairs room (tables 208-224) were the most concerned about people finding them. And they were easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention to covering the entire show floor.
How It Was Handled
There were signs above the stairs at the center of the upstairs hallway. You can see them in Galen Leather’s post on Instagram and in Mike Matteson’s video on YouTube around the 3 minute mark. There were colorful DC Pen Show labels in each elevator next to the lobby and lower level buttons. I believe there were a few other signs as well, but my memory is vague on those. Overall, I commend the show organizers for trying so hard to make sure visitors knew there was a downstairs area.
Without the hotel restaurant, the meal situation was… interesting. I don’t believe there was a breakfast or lunch option for anyone who didn’t have a hotel room. There were minimal dinner options at the temporary bar. There was also a lack of space to hang out after the show, especially later in the evening, as the temporary bar closed around 11pm.
How It Was Handled
Of course, the show organizers couldn’t have done anything about these issues. The hotel provided a shuttle to the mosaic district from 6-10pm to facilitate dining. I don’t know if you needed to have a hotel room key to take advantage of it.
I think the lack of hangout space contributed to the mass of people at the Nib Wars event. I don’t know how many people decided to hang out outside, but it was too hot for me to investigate, even around 10pm.
A new ticket was made available this year: a $25 Friday one-day pass. I’m curious about how well that sold, as I’d imagine that if someone wanted to go on Friday, they’d likely buy the Weekend Trader Pass to get the extra morning time at the show. At two and a half times the price of a weekend day, the price is, perhaps, questionable, but you’re paying a premium for the best selection, so I suppose it makes sense.
Attendance was definitely more in line with pre-COVID numbers this year, and the cramped feeling of the layout was back. The buyer rows weren’t as roomy as 2021, and the vendor rows were simply too tight. I understand that the show organizers had to work with the space they had. After all, literally every table was in use, so there wasn’t any wasted space.
According to the signs in the hotel, once renovations are complete, there will be an additional 7,000 square feet of event space. I hope this can be put to use for the 2023 DC Pen Show to get back to the spacious feel of last year’s show.
On the positive side, the staggered rows I took issue with last year were fixed this year. The center aisle was actually centered, and the rows of tables were in a standard layout. If the show had been less busy, it would have been perfectly easy and comfortable to navigate.
I mentioned last year that the seminar (free classes) promotion needed some work, and provided the following suggestions:
- Have a separate page on the website with a schedule of all of the workshops and where they will be held
- Have a poster board facing the line at the registration table and another facing the smaller ballroom with the other poster boards that lists the full schedule of workshops and where they will be held.
- Include flyers around the show areas with listings of the workshops and a link to the website for more information.
- Add the workshop schedule to the map. It already included the lower level meeting rooms. It shouldn’t be too much extra work to include a schedule of workshops for each room.
Well, gold stars to the show organizers for implementing most of these. I didn’t see flyers, but it’s possible they took care of #3 as well, and I just didn’t notice. On top of that, information was included in an information packet given to the Weekend Trader pass holders (I don’t know if it was also provided to single-day ticket holders).
There was a separate page on the website for seminars, but perhaps in future years it could be beefed up a bit with additional information about each seminar and where it will be held. A set of accordions to house the information would work really well.
I don’t think there’s much else the show owners could have done to promote the seminars. Perhaps posts on Instagram or Facebook, or emails as each seminar was finalized. Leave any ideas you have in the comments.
However, there was some confusion over the location of the seminars, as they were on the 10th floor on Friday, 16th floor on Saturday, and 10th floor on Sunday. The floors were noted on the signs, but it was in much smaller text than the schedule. The seminars likely would have benefitted from having a schedule with locations posted at the 10th floor and 16th floor.
Overall Score: 4.94 / 5
Organization: 4.8 / 5 – Everything seemed pretty well organized. I did hear some stories about a delayed show start on Thursday, so the score takes that into account.
Layout: 4.9 / 5 – The crowded feeling keeps this from being a perfect 5, but, since there isn’t much the show organizers could have done about that, I’m knocking off the smallest amount I can.
Price: 5 / 5 – No change here. At $10 a day, the show is well-priced. The $50 for the Weekend Trader Pass, especially considering it includes a +1, is well worth it. Even the new $25 Friday pass is justifiable.
Selection: 5 / 5 – There was a great variety of pens along price ranges, age, and manufacturers. I didn’t feel like much was missing. Ink was definitely underrepresented, though.
Handling of Construction: 5 / 5 – I feel as though the show organizers did everything they could to minimize the impact of the hotel construction.
Thanks for reading to the end, I hope you enjoyed my post. Did you go to the DC Pen Show? What did you think of it? How do you think the show organizers did with construction modifications? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.
More To Come
I think I’m going to have four more DC Pen Show posts. You’ll be able to find them all on the 2022 DC Pen Show tag page. But, I suggest you subscribe to my blog or follow me on Instagram so you don’t miss any.