Monday, May 7, 2012

Leadhead's Tread: 2012 Chicago Pen Show Report

I've always had a soft spot for the Chicago Pen Show.  It was the second pen show I attended more than ten years ago (second after the Ohio Show in my own back yard, of course).   It's been at the Westin O'Hare every year I've gone, and this year was no exception. 

Since I've been pretty busy at work lately, I decided to keep things simple and just take along some copies of my book, as well as a few pens and pencils for swappin'.   Rather than fill up a whole table, Michael "Ferengi" Little and I decided to split one (as he says, so I can watch his stuff while he runs around and buys everything in the room).

Last year, I just flew out and took the hotel shuttle from the airport, and they really had things down to a science (or so it seems, to an Ohio boy landing in the big city).  I drove this year (a box of books ways waaaaay more than 50 pounds), which isn't too bad if you can adjust to the idea that a hotel is going to charge you $7 a day to park in the parking lot on site. 

The hotel itself is really impressive, with a central hallway that runs the entire length of the hotel.

I do miss the days when the faint smell of cigar smoke lingered in the air at the ballroom end, and we could sit in the small bar area near the ballroom into the wee hours -- after all, spring in Chicago is dicey as far as the weather goes.  They do have an outdoor smoking area with a heater, but last year all that fresh air in the windy city was more than most of us could handle for even one cigar's worth of an evening.  This year was much better in the weather department, but we still had the heat lamp cranked as the evening grew long and the scotch grew short.

The hotel has a nice deli in the lobby, suitable for a quick sandwich mid-show, and there's a McDonald's next door and a couple great restaurants within walking distance just around the corner.  And there's a train stop close by to whisk you into any number of Chicago hot spots when you are tired of thinking about pens. 

Yeah, like that happens.

So here's all about the show:

This shot was taken on Sunday, as things were just starting to gear up.  That's Terry Mawhorter standing in the aisle and having a chat with Joel Hamilton.  On Friday, the hotel had another engagement that blocked off the front third of the ballroom, so if you were unlucky enough to have a table in that front third, you had to camp out at one of the empty tables and move to your permanent home on Saturday.  Otherwise, the lucky ones (Michael and I included) were able to set up on Friday and stay put for the weekend. 

There were fewer empty tables than last year, and both selling and trading activity were heavy.  It was really nice to see something I haven't seen at a show for a couple of years:  dealers stocking up.  I sold more than I've sold at any show since the 2008 meltdown, and I heard many of the other dealers say the same thing.   By the end of the day on Sunday, that left many of us looking like this:

That's me with Michael Little in the background, looking exactly the way we felt after three days of activity.  Whether the show organizers intended it or not, it was "pencil alley" down our row, with me, Michael, Frank Hoban, Terry Mawhorter and Frank Tedesco all right next to each other.   Oh, and seeing that blue trash can reminds me of what a good idea someone had to put those behind the tables every so often for the dealers - that was a GREAT idea!

The show was well run and my thanks to Don Lavin and Daniel Zazove on a very smooth show.  I'm sure generally brisk sales added to the overall good vibe, but when you have that many pen guys spending the weekend together and you don't hear any grumbling, that's quite an accomplishment!

As far as the hotel goes, it really is a nice place to stay - my favorite of the shows I attend.  My only complaint about the hotel is being constantly nickeled and dimed to death.  I already mentioned the cost to park at a place you are paying to stay, but after a while, you just want to say c'mon, really?  You want to charge me $12.95 per day for internet access when the McDonald's next door has free Wi-Fi??  A breakfast buffet costs $20?  And a bottle of pop and a bag of Cheetos costs $6.62 at the gift shop?  This year they did have a "green option," so if you passed on maid service for the weekend, they gave you a couple $5 off coupons for the food at the hotel -- that helped a little.

Now to the pencils:

I added more items to my collection this last weekend than I have at any single show ever.  I can't wait to tell you about all these!

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