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This was my first trip to the Tucson Shows. I have gone to the big Denver Gem Shows in the fall, however, I wanted to experience what it was like to go to Tucson because it is the largest in the world. Dan (my husband) & I discussed going to Tucson, not just for the shows but also to see the area and have our first winter vacation in years.

Last October we decided we would go. Several of my friends recommended making reservations early, which we did.

Our plan was go to a given show in either the morning or afternoon. That would give us time for another part of the day to explore Tucson’s sights. This plan worked well for us.

Prior to going, I heard dire warnings about the crowds, that we would have to wait hours to eat at a restaurant, theft of personal belongings was an issue and the dreaded Tucson crud.  In retrospect, I think some things might be urban legend and other tales were slightly exaggerated, because we didn’t experience any of that.

Preparations Before You Go

That being said, I cannot recommend enough that if you go, be prepared:

  • Inform your credit card companies of your travel dates.
  • Be aware of your purse, messenger bag, back pack at all times. NEVER place them on the floor unattended.
  • Consider carrying cash because some vendors only deal in cash. However, I do not like carrying cash so I did miss out on buying some Kordrite Opals from Australia. However, I would add that particular vendor missed out on more than just my purchase too because he was unable to accept credit cards.
  • Carry hand sanitizers and use them liberally. Once I started to touch stones, I avoided touching my eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Take Ester-C at least 10 days before your arrival and continue to take it while there.
  • Pre-register for the wholesale shows you plan to attend. Not only does that streamline the process for getting your badge prior to the show opening, but it helps you to plan which shows you want to attend.
  • Carry multiple copies of your resale license for the wholesale shows. I print them off and they are about the size of dollar bills so they fit easily in my wallet. The vendors appreciate it when you are able to present that license along with your business card at time of purchase.
  • Business cards. Have plenty of them.
  • Pre-printed address labels with your business license number. This is a big time saver during the check out process because no one has to write the information down on your sales ticket. Attach the label to the sales slip and off you go.
  • Sharpie permanent markers, Post-it Notes and plastic zip-loc type bags. Some vendors do not identify the type of stones on your receipt. You can quickly mark bags with a Sharpie or Post-it Notes so you’ll know what the stones are. I only needed to do this in a couple of the tent type sites. Sometimes I would use my iPhone to take a picture when stone boxes were labeled. However, some of the shows do not allow photographs, so be aware and respect the rules.
  • Have at least two pairs of comfortable walking shoes.

The Shows ~ According to the Guide – 45 Shows

There are so many locations that we had no intention of trying to cover all of them. I did purchase a guide from Interweave so I could have a better idea of where the shows were, parking, shuttles, opening dates, hours, city maps with the location numbered & marked, etc.

However, once we got to Tucson, the airport had the E-Z Show Guide, which was indispensable. These little guides are everywhere in town and they are free! If you are planners like Dan & I, you will want to get a legs up on the strategy for your schedule so consider buying a guide from someone like Interweave ahead of time.

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We arrived in Tucson on Sunday morning January 28, a couple of days before the main wholesale shows opened. I was offered a pre-show appointment by Mark Lasater of The Clamshell for that Sunday afternoon. It was nice to be able to have ‘first pick’ options with him. Not everyone can or will do this. It gave me a jump start on my stone shopping and I was able to get some of the prized stones for this year, the Petrified Wood Blue Opal Copper matrix. That’s a mouthful!

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Some of my finds at The Clamshell – Clockwise Variscite, Chalcedony, Petrified Wood Matrix, Sugilite, Azulite/Malachite

If you know Mark or his son Gavin, they are already scheduling appointments for next year’s pre-show at a new location. Give them a shout to set something up if you are planning on Tucson in 2019.

— To Bead To True —

This show was at a new location this year according to what I read. Nice venue. Primarily beads and some tools. I went to meet Melissa Muir in person and seeing her was well worth it. She’s a delight. Watched her demo the Pepe Automatic Rolling Mill, which she sold! It was wonderful to catch up with her. Check out her YouTube channel for great tutorials too.

GJX

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GJX was one of the major wholesale shows I wanted to see. No photos were allowed inside this show, so I was only able to capture the scene at the registration center just prior to the doors opening. This was early morning on the opening day.

My first stop was Gary B. Wilson’s booth. I came away with so many perfect little stones that I’m currently using in my Celestial ring series.

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Treasures from Gary B Wilson

While there I enjoyed finding some new vendors too. Thankfully the number of people in attendance the first day was quite reasonable. We easily walked the show and were able to see the display cases without lining up behind people.

After a lunch break in downtown Tucson, we decided that we had enough energy to walk over to the AGTA show and explore that in the afternoon.

— AGTA —

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AGTA was the second major wholesale show I attended on its opening day. I was delighted to find some new suppliers like Rare Earth Mining and Out of Our Mines. There were lots of quality vendors there, including Mark Lasater of The Clamshell. Since I had seen Mark earlier in the week, I did cruise by his offerings but elected to explore what others had.

Again, this show was not super crowded and we easily saw things. It’s big too so lots of walking, but that felt great after lunch.

— JOGS —

Another large show, lots of specimens and a bit difficult to navigate due to the layout of the booths/tables. My impression of this show was I really needed to be careful if I bought anything because what I saw didn’t look like the best quality. I had pre-registered for this show and had my badge, however, I was still required to check in. There was a bit of confusion between the security guards and the registration desk about my badge; should it have another sticker, shouldn’t it? I found the process odd and inefficient. Suffice it to say, this isn’t a show I would go back to again.

— 22nd Street Show —

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This was the last show we attended. It really met my expectations of what I envisioned with fossils, rocks, a few gems and nice lapidary work. I found a number of things at great prices and quality. This was the eclectic mix of vendors. Large and small fossils of all varieties. Crystals, rocks, geodes and more.

One of the vendors that came from Australia had some super nice Koroit opals but he was not set up to take credit cards. This was the only supplier I encountered that needed cash, so my plan to not carry cash actually worked out well with this one exception.

Parking at the various show locations

Maybe the stars were perfectly aligned for us, but parking was never an issue. On the day of the two big wholesale shows (GJX & AGTA) opening, we got downtown around 9:00 AM an found plenty of parking in one of the city’s parking garages. If we had parked at the Tucson Convention Center parking garage where the AGTA was located, the cost would have been $20. However, we were just a few blocks away from both shows and only paid $8 to park for the day.

Tucson does have a great shuttle system set up for these shows. We had planned on taking the shuttles, however, parking access for each of the shows we attended was very simple and not costly either.

The Scenery ~ Exploring Tucson

Monday morning, we visited the Eastern Saguaro National Park. Let me tell you, there are cactus EVERYWHERE in Tucson. The National Parks (both East and West) do them justice, of course. I was amazed by seeing so many cactus.

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I found this warning sign amusing and spot on accurate. People were cycling through the park and you have to pay attention or you could really hurt yourself.

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We explored the Botanical Gardens. That was one of the highlights of the trip for me. They had a nice Origami exhibit throughout the gardens. And yes they had more than just cactus!

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Their butterfly and orchid pavilion was very special.

Our last day we visited a Mission, The Patronato San Xavier, dating back to the 1600’s. Our tour guide was great and his love of history apparent. They are restoring this facility and it is a active Catholic church on the reservation today. Incredible work; truly inspiring.

The Restaurants

There certainly weren’t any shortages for good places to eat. For some reason our go to app, Yelp, didn’t perform well in Tucson. However, Google searches and Trip Advisor provided a wealth of information.

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We liked the Union Public House so much, we went there twice!

We found  this delightful pizza / pub just off campus. It’s name is 1702 Craft Beer and Pizza. It did not disappoint with the beer selection and yummy pizza.

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I will say it was hard to find a good coffee place downtown. I think with all the renovation, the one we tried to find was well hidden. Whenever we travel, we try to experience local so that is why we by-passed Starbucks, of which, there were plenty.

Barrio Brewing was a great find. Loved the atmosphere. The food and beer was awesome.

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We celebrated my birthday at Brother John’s. Great barbecue. It was Whiskey Wednesday so I opted to enjoy a Basil Hayden based on our waitress’ recommendation. It was good advice and I definitely enjoyed this whiskey.

Thunder Canyon is downtown and was another place with great food and beer.

I think as most of these photos show, nothing was terribly crowded. We always got a table as soon as we arrived. It might be that if you are trying to eat at an actual show location, that’s where you run into the long waits. Overall, we found spots that were close and convenient to what we were doing. Loved exploring the local cuisine and I know we barely sampled all that we could have.

On our last night we stopped at a tap room close to our hotel called 1912 Brewing.

NLIV9876Very pleasant atmosphere. Excellent beer.

Back Home

We had a lovely time. Would we go back for the main wholesale shows? Probably. Only next time the trip would be much shorter with more precision for which shows I would want to attend. Dan & I think we would fly in the day before the main shows open, stay  two days tops and then come home.

Did we come down with the Tucson crud? Dan might have, although it seemed more like a bad case of allergies. I managed to escape unscathed. No matter, Ester-C and hand sanitizers are your BFFs for this type of event.

New works from show purchases

The Celestial Rings. I love making these and each one is from one of the stones I bought while in Tucson. More are on my bench waiting for me to finish them.

Thoughts on the Experience

I would say, if you have never gone to Tucson for these shows, yes make it a plan to do so. We did go with the intention to do more than just the shows. For us that was a smart decision. I have a feeling some go for a couple of weeks and try to take in all 45 shows. I just could not do that, nor would I want to.

It certainly helped that I have gone to the Denver Gem and Mineral Shows, which take place in the fall here in Colorado. I think that helped me to prepare for this and not feel overwhelmed.

Another thing to consider is know what you want, have a budget and rest when fatigue sets it. There’s lots to do and see outside of the shows. Enjoy!

Until next time, I aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

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Kathleen Krucoff


Artist and Metalsmith

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