How to Make it Even Better
I want to start this post by ensuring any reader knows that I’m not writing this to denigrate the DC Pen Show, the show organizers, or the venue. This post is going to seem negative since I’m writing about issues I had with the show and venue. But, nothing is perfect, and you can’t improve without input. So, that’s what I’m trying to do: provide input and suggestions for improvement.
I also want to acknowledge that Barbara and her team have improved the DC Pen Show by leaps and bounds. Their work to better the show for vendors and attendees deserves recognition. I want to help the show organizers continue to make the DC Pen Show even better.
Now, with my purpose explained, let’s dive into the few issues I had with and at the DC Pen Show and some possible ideas for mitigation.
I’ve written about pen show accessibility before, so I won’t harp on it too much. I would like to believe that some of the biggest issues here stem from working with new room layouts. Side note: if you attended the DC Pen Show last year — or read my posts — you know that the hotel was undergoing construction. It’s done now, and some changes include a new room (the Alexandria Room or smallest show room) and a completely redone room (Ticket Lounge or medium show room).
I know there’s a difference between seeing a layout on paper and experiencing it in person with all of the crowding of a show.
Both the medium and small rooms were rather tight. I spoke to several people using mobility devices, and I’m sad to say there were aisles and areas they simply couldn’t access. In some cases, their devices (wheelchairs, walkers, and motorized chairs) wouldn’t fit between tables. In others, aisles were so narrow and busy that someone unsteady on their feed wouldn’t be willing to test themselves against the flow of people.
Beyond mobility issues, anyone with a touch sensitivity would likely have been uncomfortable in the smaller rooms, and even some areas of the large room.
As happens at conventions, the show got loud, especially at the busiest times of the day. When combined with the crush of people — or perhaps even on its own — the general show atmosphere could easily get overwhelming.
Unfortunately, the possible remedies I can think of for these issues aren’t great. You’d have to reduce the number of vendors — not ideal — or increase space — there is the downstairs area from last year, but it isn’t large, and I don’t know if any other spaces exist in the hotel.
Better balancing the aisles could help the smallest room. The aisle closest to the doors was quite a bit wider than the aisle closest to the wall, which resulted in bottlenecks.
Because the DC Pen Show happens in August, and DC is grossly hot and humid at that time, exiting the show to cool down from overstimulation may not work. It would be nice if a boardroom somewhere was set aside as a cool-down/quiet room.
For the past few years, the medium room (previously the small room) has been the “maker” room. Nearly all of the vendors in that room are independent pen makers. The large room has housed the retailers and manufacturers, vintage pen sellers, and overflow indie makers. The smallest room this year house some new, small, retailers and indie makers. While this seems like a good idea in theory — go to room A for indie pens, go to room B for vintage, etc. — in practice, I think it might be killing sales.
You all know I adore indie pens, so forgive me for a moment when I say that many of them are “pretty ink sticks.” This isn’t a bad thing, and each maker has nuances that make their pens unique. But if you’re feeling even remotely overwhelmed, it’s far easier to see the similarity than the differences. This perception isn’t helped by many makers displaying their pens in a similar manner.
As an example, if you had your favorite dessert every day after each meal, you’d likely grow tired of it quickly, and want something different. However, if you only get it once a week, or once a month, it’s a delightful treat.
I think it would be helpful to spread the various types of vendors (indie, manufacturer, retailer, vintage, and pen-adjacent) throughout all of the show areas. I got so tired of seeing vintage pens in the large room that I skipped a whole row at one point without even realizing it. Some visual diversity to the products for sale would keep things interesting and fresh.
In general, I think advertising is still the DC Pen Show’s weakest point. While I know social media isn’t the end-all and be-all, the DC Pen Show Instagram account hasn’t had a post since September 16, 2021, and their Facebook page hasn’t had a post since July 12, 2022.
The information on seminars and workshops is also lacking quite a bit. It was hearing Azizah of Gourmet Pens mention her workshops on the Gourmet Pens Club podcast that reminded me to look at available workshops. Sadly, at that point, the ones I’d have been most likely to attend were already full.
The “advertising” within the show — AKA signage — could also use some improvement. While signage at the entrance from the parking garage and at the entrance of the small room was pretty good, I heard many stories about issues with the medium-sized room. There was a DC Pen Show pull-up banner, but that banner wasn’t exclusive to the entrance to show areas. Right next to it was a sign reading “Pen Show Ticket Lounge,” which apparently led many people to believe that you had to have an extra ticket to enter.
Perhaps the show organizers assume that everyone knows there’s another room because there has been in previous years. However, with the hotel renovation, that room has a short hallway to the entrance, so you can’t take a quick peek and see that there’s another whole room of vendors to visit.
It would be helpful to resurrect the Facebook and Instagram accounts. It wouldn’t take much to dedicate a post to each seminar and workshop. They would serve the dual purpose of advertising the DC Pen Show and raising awareness of the various classes, paid and free.
On top of that, it would be helpful to offer a small handout at the registration desk. I spent a bit under an hour — most of that time was fixing formatting on text copied from the website, which the show organizers wouldn’t need to do — to put together a one-page, bi-fold handout. With the information included, attendees would know where the show rooms are located and what and when the seminars and workshops are.
If there’s budget for a second page, then information about giveaways and show specials could be included.
As to signage, despite how obvious the various show rooms may seem to the organizers, I think additional “Even more pen show this way” signs pointing to the rooms — like above the doorway to the medium-sized room — would be helpful.
Every year, the hotel has the same issue with staffing in the restaurant and bar. Unfortunately, whereas before the renovation the bar and restaurant were separate, now they are in the same area and served by the same staff. The entire weekend, I saw two servers at any given time, and they were clearly run ragged, even with most of us trying to be kind and patient.
To make matters worse — in my opinion — the few times I was in the restaurant area, there was at least one manager, sometimes two, standing around nagging the servers.
I have no idea if it would have any impact — and it’s possible that the show organizers have already done this — but perhaps a requirement for additional staff for the weekend could be added to the contract?
Pen Show After Dark
With the hotel bar — and restaurant — now moved to the lobby, that’s where everyone congregated after the show. This was not an improvement. While the lighting is better in the lobby, there is less seating and more noise.
As to the former, the hotel clearly didn’t consider the lobby a major gathering area, so there are a handful of seats, but no real place to congregate and share pens, inks, paper, etc. As a result, this altered the feel of the gathering. It was more about socializing than sharing. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. For the more timid among us — myself included — it was easier to chat with people since they weren’t in large groups around big tables.
But, with more groups came more noise. On both Friday and Saturday nights, the sound levels in the lobby became uncomfortable several times. Between the high ceiling and various smaller open areas around the lobby that helped reflect noise back into the crowd, the gatherings were a true cacophony. The natural swells in conversations would reach crescendos that were nearly deafening. I literally felt as though the sound was swelling inside me, and not in a good way. The occasional ebbs were blissful breaths of relief, granting me enough calm to be able to carry on with the evening without a full sensory overload.
And, before you think I’m exaggerating, I had to yell to be heard by the person sitting about 6 inches to my right. When I sat next to Jim, no more than a foot away, it took all of my concentration to filter his words out of the mélange of voices.
I don’t really have a solution for this one. I understand both why everyone congregated in the lobby — the bar — and why it was so loud — the architecture. Unless the hotel were to reopen the old bar so that we could spread out some or encourage people not to loiter in the lobby, I don’t really think there’s a fix. If it’s as noisy next year, I may need to take some “quiet time” breaks up in my hotel room or in the bathroom.
Wrap it Up!
OK, I’m sorry, this got really long. Before I close this out, I want to make sure to state that I really enjoyed the DC Pen Show, regardless of how this post may make things sound. Most of the show was really good, and I applaud the hard work of the show organizers and DC Pen Crew volunteers who helped make it so. The show has come so far already, and I want to see it become the best show it can possibly be.
Did you attend the DC Pen Show? If so, did you notice any of the issues I mentioned above? Is there anything I missed? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.