Tucson Hotel Uproar Emerges as Executive Inn Show Self-Destructs
By Tony Nikischer
Two years ago, most mineral dealers participating at the Executive Inn show in Tucson left the E.I. with show promoter Martin Zinn, opening two new shows at the Clarion Hotel and the Smugglers Inn. At the crux of the dispute was the apparent attempt at price gouging by the E.I. owner, along with his plan to consume all the hotel parking spaces with tents. The dealers left, and hotel has since been sold, and an effort to have a show there has continued with the new owner. However, additional problems developed there this year, ultimately making the Tucson morning and evening news broadcasts as formal charges of price gouging and bargaining in bad faith were levied against the new E.I. owner by several dealers still remaining at that hotel this year.
Engaging an attorney through a foreign consulate, the dealers challenged the hotel's attempt at levying additional room charges cloaked as open-ended fire watch charges, parking fees, electricity charges, room key activation charges, excess toilet paper fees and excessive cleaning charges, all over and above the promotion fee and room charges the dealers had paid as part of their original contracts with the hotel. The parking lot, filled with tents, was another bone of contention. The Fire Department subsequently closed the surrounding streets to parking in order to guarantee quick access in the event of a tent fire, further exacerbating the dismal parking situation there. Tempers flared; another foreign dealer allegedly drew a gun, and the police were summoned on two occasions. Local newscasts delighted in the story! The show status at the E.I. is now deemed as chaotic and unstable, and likely dead henceforth. The dealers have vowed as a group to not return, the identical scenario that caused the Martin Zinn dealer migration two years ago. The players have changed, but the situation has not. It appears the E.I. will no longer have a mineral show in its future.
The newscasts and Tucson consumer protection types decried the hotel's actions, empathized with the dealers and promised an investigative follow up. But a reality check suggests a blind eye has been turned to this type of price gouging situation for years. As a personal observation, ripping off the dealers and general public has been becoming more commonplace in Tucson during the annual mineral show, as hotel room rates typically double during the event (mine going from a standard $99 a night to an unwarranted $179 a night for the show period), all plus a punishing 11.5% local tax, of course, AND a daily hotel occupancy tax as well! Spread that over three or more weeks, and the numbers loom large! To profess to be unaware of this routine gouging is ludicrous! The mineral show generates about $80 million in additional revenue for the City of Tucson each year, and this windfall is not simply a result of magnanimous donations by tourists and visiting dealers! Greed plays a big part in this annual event in many quarters, as fees and rates increase dramatically in a number of consumer categories during the show. Resulting higher tax revenues and fees from the event contribute heavily to the $80 million boost to the local economy. It is all about the money, and the mineral show far exceeds the rodeo, golf tournaments and other events in revenue generation for Tucson. Charging whatever the traffic will bear seems to be the modus operandi around town, and it is unfortunately opportunistic to a fault. Anyone doing the math will agree that the City of Tucson is a direct beneficiary of these higher fees via their accompanving tax revenue increases.
Collector Attendance and Dealer Consolidations
What effect has all this had on the show itself? The general opinion of dealers and promoters we spoke to suggests that attendance is down, certainly at most of the outlying hotel shows. Fewer collectors showed up this year, perhaps in part due to gas prices, higher hotel rates and/or the spread-out nature of the hotel shows. Just getting to all the show locations consumes a fair amount of precious time better spent looking at minerals. The net effect has been less business for some of the dealers, and this contributes to higher specimen prices and fewer dealers willing to make the investment of time and money to go to Tucson.
For 2007, we predict a substantial fallout of marginal dealers and the beginnings of a consolidation of hotel shows. This is not necessarily bad. A "culling of the herd" in most businesses ultimately results in a stronger and more vibrant market. The Smugglers Inn will have no show next year, and the dealers there will be moving to another location. But the same owners of the Smugglers Inn also preside over the Clarion Hotel, another of Martin Zinn's locations. The Clarion has announced that it will not have the large "B" suites rented to dealers in 2007, and several of the "name" dealers from the Clarion will move to the Inn Suites, filling vacancies caused by departing fossil and mineral dealers. Other good dealers like David Shannon Minerals simply will not return to Tucson, relying instead on their robust mail order business. Their departure is our collective loss. The Clarion may not be a show destination at all in 2008, and Marty Zinn's new Quality Inn venue, launching in 2007, will try to pick up the slack.
And so, the Tucson dealer consolidation will begin next year in earnest, and it will likely continue into 2008 as the shakeout of outlying hotels continues. In the long run, this should be better for the serious dealers and customers alike, as fewer, concentrated venues start to resemble the old DI/Travelodge arrangement that was superseded by the E.I./Inn Suites and subsequent migrations. Almost everyone we spoke to, dealers and collectors alike welcomed the idea of a less spread-out show in the future.
Now, if only it could be made shorter.
The Tucson 2006 Curves Show Report
By Alfredo Petrov
Most mineral shows are held in school gymnasia, fairgrounds, armories and the like, so first-time visitors to the Tucson megashow may be shocked at the diversity of venues piled high with minerals: big tents, little tents, fancy hotel rooms, shabby hotel rooms, tables around swimming pools, on the sidewalks, in parking lots and even in gas stations! But Tucson outdid itself this year with yet another unusual venue: Curves Cabaret, a well-known nude bar, and perhaps the first mineral show ever that was open only to collectors over 21 years of age. The show was held for 5 hours only, 9:00p.m. to 2:00a.m., on Monday, January 30th. Monday is normally a rather dead night for the club, so the owner was delighted with the huge crowd of mineral collectors that showed up, rivaling or exceeding the typical weekend crowd, with a line of eager would-be attendees stretching out the door most of the night.
Promoter Justin Butt (www.minwreck.com) developed some new concepts for organizing this show, "The Crystal Ball": VIP collectors could buy $500 worth of tokens in advance, which gave them free entrance to Curves, unlimited free drinks, and a free ride home in the club's limo after inebriation; the $500 in tokens could be spent for minerals from the dealers, making the other services essentially free. The tokens, in $100 units, had on one side a nude photo of Catalina (one of the club's 40 attractive artists) from the back, and on the front side a Jeff Scovil specimen photo (not, fortunately, a photo of Jeff from the front, as I had initially misunderstood). These tokens are already for sale on E-bay, apparently in demand as souvenirs. Most visitors to the show chose not to buy tokens, and so had to pay the usual cover charge and drink prices. Dealer tables were arranged in a small circle around one of the dancing platforms, so dealers had to choose between paying attention to customers or watching the pretty girls doing their unclothed acrobatics on the stainless steel pole - a difficult decision! (The malicious rumor that dealers also were clad only in g-strings must here be laid to rest; be assured that all dealers were fully dressed!)
So what did the dealers bring? Scott Klein (Great Basin Minerals) had a lot of aesthetic Nevada minerals, including fuzzy carpets of wire gold from the Olinghouse mine, precious opal from Virgin Valley, and thumbnail to toenail size platy dendritic copper coated with cuprite crystals. Russell Rizzo (Cal Neva Mineral Co.) showed off a 7cm translucent emerald crystal from Kabul, Afghanistan, allegedly recently uncovered during ditch digging for some post-war reconstruction project. Josep Sanchez-LaFuente (Intan) of Barcelona, Spain, had some superb new aragonite crystals up to 12cm long from the village of Enguidanos in Spain, zoned with a strong violet color in the center; several "ametrine" crystals from Bolivia, up to 15cm long, terminated by their characteristic etched flat pinacoid faces; opal nodules from Ethiopia, and a magnificent $3,000 group of clam shells replaced by precious opal from Australia. Clem Smith (San Andreas Minerals) displayed some of the lovely new cabinet-size dioptase specimens from the Carbonera mine in Peru, and a lot of the wonderful new grape-green prehnite spheres attached to fat doubleterminated epidote crystals from a skarn in northwestern Mali.
Pu Tzu (The Uncarved Block) exhibited an 8cm pink "morganite" beryl from Rio do SuI in Minas Gerais which had the distinction of a relatively large mobile bubble almost a centimeter in size sloshing around in a 2-phase inclusion. Alfredo Petrov (yours truly, the author) managed to sell a polished blue sodalite egg to one of the lovely working girls but he was dismally unsuccessful in getting any of them interested in grey sulphides, in spite of having two of the world's largest stannites (from Oruro, Bolivia) in his case; inexplicable, isn't it? It was painfully obvious that not only the young damsels but also the majority of collectors preferred to look at the topless maidens in front of his case rather than at any aesthetically challenged dark grey sulphides. Last but not least, a young mineral artist, the charming Brandy Naugle, displayed her excellent paintings of thumbnail to miniature mineral specimens, which were on sale together with their respective specimens, most viewers voting the kyanite to be the best.
Donna Leicht (Kristalle) brought a rather phallic-looking specimen from the superb Martin Zinn stalactite collection, and this was auctioned off for charity by one of the dancers, who did a good job of erotically stroking the specimen to encourage its sale. And Brandy Naugle's lap dance at the conclusion of this rather unconventional mineral show will not quickly be forgotten by those who watched it.
The Crystal Ball will be held at Curves again in 2007, and will be expanded to two Mondays, one emphasizing minerals and the other one gems. For those collectors and dealers who don't want to be deadly serious all the time, we can expect Justin to organize another great mineral party. (NB: Since some Mineral News readers may be under 18 years old, we must excuse the Editor for not publishing pictures of the event.)
---- March 2006
2006 Tucson Pricing Discourages Collectors
By K.L. Nestorak kln58 @optonline.net
Another Tucson show is over, and this one was not a world-beater for anything except prices! Two weeks of prowling around the various hotel shows disclosed no new, great finds of anything not on the market before. However, after careful consideration, I reached the awestruck conclusion that I either need to get a better job or just stop buying minerals!
One of the outlying hotels known for its exclusive, high-end dealers was filled with nice specimens, but it was difficult to find anything worth having for less than $800 or so. There were many, many specimens in the $5,000 to $40,000 price range that were fine, but they appeared grossly overpriced nonetheless! A fellow traveler observed that dropping a zero off all the price tags would still result in much of the stock being too expensive for what it was. What's going on here?
Talking to a couple of the weighty dealers, I heard that there is "new money" coming into the hobby, supposedly from the oil trade. So, what the market can bear now seems to be a lot more than most of us can afford! One collector told me that he attempted to buy back a particular specimen mistakenly sold to a dealer when culling his collection, only to learn the dealer had marked it up ten times (!!!) and was unwilling to budge much on the price. "It's all about profit." To quote Dr. Seuss: "I flew right back home, and as you may have guessed, I was downright despondent, disturbed and depressed."
Just my opinion, but I think taking advantage of new collectors, regardless of their financial capabilities, is a great disservice to the hobby. Fair profit and business ethics aside, it is shortsighted and will hurt us all over time since:
1. Many collectors will be unable to afford anything deemed especially good or attractive, and they will quickly lose interest, finding another hobby for their time and money.
2. The select few who can afford overpriced material will someday discover angrily "they have been had" by the dealer community, and they will be lost to the hobby forever.
3. Insidious "bracket creep" will slowly drive up the prices of mediocre material in an attempt to maintain some relative equilibrium in pricing, putting even more material out of range for most collectors.
There is no substitute for knowledge when collecting minerals, and the slow and careful acquisition of different material over time serves as a good teacher. But, it seems that the pricing models and sales pitches used by some dealers tries to catapult new collectors into an exclusive club in a hurry, and it fails to build the long-term, sustainable growth the hobby needs to survive.
Too bad for all of us!