The 69th Annual Portland Home & Garden Show took place at the Expo Center, February 25-28. Thousands of people attended to peruse two packed halls, filled with vendors displaying a wide range of indoor and outdoor products, from saunas, stone designs, and chimney services to kitchen cutlery, greenhouses, and garden nurseries.
Phil Parker, show manager of the event, said that what makes this event attractive is the ability to shop in an interactive way and connect personally with the vendors.
“There’s an awful lot of shopping. Almost like what you would do on the internet, but you can find so many different things under one roof,” Parker said. “You’ve got this whole palette of different kinds of home and garden related products and services that you can see and touch and talk to the people that are selling them and get advice.”
In addition to typical home and garden businesses, there was an entire section featuring artists. John Glasser is the creator behind Eco-Chimes which are wind chimes, lamps, and lights made out of used bottles. In his booth, a Grey Goose vodka bottle provides the base for a lamp and Chambord, Kahlua and Hendrick’s bottles are featured in hanging wind-chimes.
Although the show sold-out to vendors and invited thousands of attendees, many exhibitors noticed a drastic change in business this year.
This is Glasser’s eighth year participating in the event and he’s found sales to be especially slow this time.
“I find that the economy has a lot to do with disposable income,” Glasser said.
He’s not selling as much as he has in the past. Nonetheless he still values participating in the show.
“It validates my stupid idea,” Glasser joked. “That’s probably true of any artist. You can create or build stuff all you want, but if no one appreciates it, what’s the point?”
Shelly Durica-Laiche, an alumna of Portland State’s graphic design and sculpture programs, is the artist behind Indio Metal Arts. She creates metal garden sculptures and trellises, which are especially popular this time of year. This is her fourth year and while there was ample foot traffic, she also noticed that business was slower than usual.
“I’m at about less than half of what I did last year. There are a lot of people, but not as many people buying, at least in this artisan area,” Durica-Laiche said. “We’ve all been talking about it. We all don’t know why.”
Parker said that the artisan vendors usually find this show to be a boon for their work.
“Some of the artisans out there have been with us now for about ten years, and they’re finding this to be a really lucrative place to market what they do” Parker said. “The word’s leaking out that it’s very successful for them and the attending public is getting used to finding them here.”
Not all vendors noticed a dip in sales because many of them use the event as an opportunity to talk to people and simply introduce their products.
Dan Layton and Gwyn Warner from the non-profit Growing Gardens, were vendors for the first time and they’ve were impressed by the size of the event and pleased with the interest they’ve received in raised-bed gardening.
“I’m selling and I’m giving information. I’m giving 75 percent information and selling 25 percent,” Warner said.
Regardless of the economy’s effect on sales, most vendors seem to agree that what makes a show like this worthwhile is connecting with people and meeting customers face-to-face.
“I think that’s a huge thing about shows in general. It’s not just pictures on the internet. It’s not just words on a page,” Parker said. “It’s literally interactions between humans.”