Local businesses had longstanding association with outdoors show
A longtime area vendor at the annual Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show said he thinks the show "may not ever recover" from the postponement of this year's event by the organizers, which came in reaction to vendor protests over the show's ban on assault weapons displays.
Mike Martz, majority partner of Martz's Gap View Hunting Preserve and Game Farm in Dalmatia, which has rented vending space at the annual show at the Harrisburg Farm Show Arena "for as long as I can remember," said Reed Exhibitions, which promotes the show and announced the indefinite postponement on Thursday, did not take vendors' concerns into account when it made the decision.
"That's kind of typical of them," Martz said. "They kind of have a monopoly on these things and they tend to be a little arrogant. They didn't even notify us; we found out about it from their website. We're not even sure we're going to get our money back."
An Associated Press story cited a vendor backlash against Reed's ban on assault rifle displays caused the company to postpone the show, which was scheduled to start Saturday, Feb. 2 and run for nine days. It said Reed Exhibitions posted a notice on the website of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show that said an "emotionally charged atmosphere" had been created that would make it impossible to hold an event "designed to provide family enjoyment."
The statement said the show was
being postponed "for now" but did not elaborate on when it might be held, and a company spokesman declined an interview request.
Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions' regional president, said in a statement that the presence of "modern sporting rifles" would have distracted from the show's focus on hunting and fishing, "a product decision. ... of the type event organizers need to make every day."
Reed had decided to ban the sale and display of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The move angered a significant portion of the show's customer base, and a growing number of vendors had announced they were pulling out of the show. Online listings showed more than 200 sellers had decided against participation, a number Reed did not confirm.
Martz said Reed's decision was typical of his dealings with the company, which he said took over promotion of the event in the mid-1990s.
"My take is that Reed Exhibitions' position is totally unacceptable," Martz said. "It doesn't represent how the majority of hunters in our state feel about the assault rifle controversy. On the flip side, it is a hunting show primarily, so I can see their point, but if it's not held, I don't think it will ever recover."
Martz said he had very little idea the event would be postponed until about a week ago.
"I just heard about it about a week ago," he said. "The NRA (National Rifle Association) had been urging people (vendors) to stay in and now they've pulled out themselves."
Martz said Jim Rebuck, of J&M Traditions, near Dornsife, who makes custom traditional bows and arrows, is another longtime area vendor at the show.
Rebuck, who has $4,000 invested in his booth at the show and has been participating for nearly 20 years, said once Reed Exhibitions made its decision to ban the weapons at the show, his decision was made as well.
"I wasn't going to the show under any circumstances once they banned the assault weapons," Rebuck said Friday night. "I put in a protest demanding my money back from Reed Exhibitions.
"The thing that upsets me most is these people who didn't drop out of the show. This is about protecting our Second Amendment rights."
Rebuck said he put a notice about withdrawing from the show on his business Web site and almost immediately began to receive positive messages from many of his friends and customers.
Beyond the controversy itself, Martz said the Harrisburg-area economy could take a real hit if the show isn't held.
"Just think of all the hotels and restaurants and other businesses that are going to be affected," Martz said.
A story on PennLive.com noted that loss of the show could result in a $43 million hit to the Harrisburg area.
"It's financially devastating. It's one of the highest-volume weeks of the year for us," said Doug Krick, owner of Dodge City Restaurant, told PennLive. Krick's restaurant is located within two miles of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.
(Sports Editor Charlie Roth contributed to this article.)