Convention Survival Guide: Showroom Floor and Artists Alley
The showroom floor is the most chaotic place in any convention. Even though the panels are spread out, most people are concentrated in or immediately around the dealers hall and artists alley since they account for the bulk of the conventions’ floor space. Not only will you have just enough room to shuffle around, you’ll have to maneuver your bag so it doesn’t catch on or hit anybody while scoping out vendor booths and artist tables in quick, jerky glances so you don’t end up running into someone.
If you’re in a particularly crowded hall, the first obstacle is moving within the heave of bodies. Your best bet is always going to be a mix of politeness and decisiveness. Don’t hope that people will part in front of you as though you were the otaku Moses, but at the same time don’t shove or push people aside; walk in a clearly defined line while gently motioning or saying, “excuse me.” Try not to get caught behind clumps of onlookers while you’re walking. If you happen to be one of those people taking in something so interesting it’s causing entire lanes to become clogged, try and keep yourself as close to tables or other structures, like support pillars, as possible. Don’t lean into things you shouldn’t touch, of course, but give the aisle as much room as possible. No one enjoys a small crowd blocking a cramped patch of floor, so be aware of your surroundings. If you’re feeling claustrophobic or nervous about planting your feet amidst a sea of shuffling humans, just smile at them if you catch their eye and let them flow around you.
Before the internet became such an enormous staple in deal hunting, convention halls were places where you had a reasonable chance of snatching something cool for a price lower than what you would find in a brick and mortar store. This is still more or less true today because conventions such as WonderCon don’t charge tax. Before you go to the convention, keep a checklist of items that you want to buy. Do some research on eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, and whatever other sources you have to figure out the varying prices of what you want. That way, when you’re at the dealer’s hall you’ll know precisely whether or not you’re actually saving money. Do remember that even if you can find something cheaper online, more often than not the difference will be about five or ten dollars, so when you take shipping costs and tax into account, you may not be saving much at all. Lastly, being interested in and engaging with the vendors can help a lot. Vendors, especially the independent stores, are more inclined to ratchet prices down or throw in something to sweeten the deal if you’re friendly and make a connection with them.
One of the unique aspects to maneuvering through a dealer’s hall is the fact that every decision is heavily impacted by time. When you’re in a store or purchasing something online, the odds that the item will be gone before you decide to buy are significantly lower than when you’re shopping at a convention. If you see a rare item on the floor, remember that there are many others who may want it just as badly as you, if not more so. There’s never a guarantee that something will be there the next day, let alone the next hour. This doesn’t mean you should buy everything in sight, but prioritize what you want. If there’s a statue of your favorite anime character that’s eluded you for months or years, even if it’s expensive it may be worthwhile to pick it up over something that’s more widely available and cheaper. If you feel like taking a little risk, waiting for the last day of the con will usually bring lower prices. The fact is, vendors would rather sell their merchandise on the floor because they’ll have less to ship back to their warehouse or storefronts which will cost them less. Sometimes prices get cut in half, and sometimes they’re shifted down by five dollars, so it’s up to you to gauge how much the item might go down in price and how likely it is to disappear forever.
Most conventions that focus on geeky or popular culture include space for artists. These folks are usually of moderate renown, unless they’re a special guest, and are looking to sell their art and spread their name. If you do decide to check out their artwork, greet them politely and take care around their products. If your only goal is to find cool art prints, you can treat them more or less like any other vendor, but if you yourself are an artist or are otherwise involved in the industry, never underestimate the power of networking. That isn’t to say that you should see each of them as a business opportunity waiting to happen, but you never know who you might wind up being friends with; if they can’t get you a job somewhere, you can always swap techniques, ideas, experiences, and expertise. At the very least, in keeping with the spirit behind any convention, it’s all about fostering the community.
Be sure to check out the other parts of our guide including:
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