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Debate over opening show dominates forum

The ABC Expo's board of directors hosted an Open Forum here on Sunday, Sept. 12, during which show attendees could voice their concerns or suggestions — a move intended to foster communication and improve the show for next year.

As with last year's Open Forum, the main point of contention was the question of whether the show should be opened to additional retailers. Currently, the show is limited in attendance to independent stores, defined as retailers who are not publicly traded and who are not national in scope — meaning they do not have a presence in the majority of the 50 states.

"We're eliminating a huge part of the market," said Stewart Paul, president of P.J. Kids, a remark that drew applause from many of the attending vendors.

Unlike last year's meeting, however, the board showed some disagreement among its members.

"This board recognizes that issue and has discussed it many times at length, and we're not all in agreement on it," said Alan Levine, ABC board member and president of USA Baby. "USA Baby would support opening the show. We are trying to work through this process. There are many of us on the board here who agree with you."

Michael Slobodkin, owner of Boston Baby Superstore and an ABC board member, said he was opposed to opening the show. "As an independent retailer, it's a much more comfortable show to work," he said. "We get different kinds of attention from (vendors) than we do at a JPMA show."

The board said it would continue the conversation in subsequent board meetings.

"I definitely think we will discuss it more seriously than we ever have in the past," said Ken Goore, vice chairman of the ABC board and owner of Sacramento, Calif.-based independent retailer Goore's.

Other issues raised included floor layout and traffic flow; one exhibitor claimed because of her location and the raised structure of the booths around her, she had little traffic to her booth. This led to the hotly debated issue of when booth spaces are assigned, and an outcry from smaller exhibitors who didn't realize that some companies had already picked out their space for next year's show.

"This puts the small exhibitors at a distinct advantage," said Freddi Finegood, vice president of bedding company BananaFish. "You have to do it in a more fair and logical way. Small exhibitors in a 10-by-10 booth can't leave their booths for a feeding frenzy. Having a feeding frenzy before a show is finished is not the way to do it."

Schur later said that most booth spaces will not be assigned until this month. "Other than those exhibitors who require 40, 50, 60, 100 booths, and the private rooms, we haven't assigned spaces," he said. "Others have put in their preferences, but we won't start assigning until October."

Other suggestions for next year's show included a "High Design" area where cutting-edge, design-oriented exhibitors could all show together, making it easier for the boutiques who look for that kind of product to find them.

Pockets Alvarez, president of Newport Cottages, suggested an incentive for early registration — such as a discounted hotel room — rather than a deterrent, as was the case this year when retailers who wanted to register on-site were told they would have to pay a $125 late fee (the fee was dropped in the end).

Kids Today Managing Editor Tanya K. Merritte contributed to this article.

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