Sweet Apple Tea kicked off the new year with Anime Zap in East Peoria. Last year we got snowed in for almost a week, remember that? The boring stuff: applications and acceptance are FCFS, $90 for a 6’ table.
This year, we traveled on New Year’s Day and were carefully watching the weather. It was supposed to get a little snowy so we were nervous all weekend about getting stuck again. I did run into another problem. I’d forgotten that this convention was falling right over the New Year holiday and no banks were open to get change. Fortunately, I was able to get the front desk clerk to break $80 for me. He was extremely polite. I never knew you could ask the hotel to do that but thank goodness for the Embassy Suites.
The Embassy Suites in East Peoria is the same hotel as last year and let me tell you, I LOVE THIS PLACE. It’s beautiful inside, spacious, and the staff are unbelievable friendly. Free hot breakfast, sky bridge to the convention center, ample parking. So breakfast is worth noting. Made to order omelettes, pancakes, fresh fruit, hot breakfast things like bacon, biscuits and gravy, etc. So gooood.
We met a little Illinois construction on our way north to East Peoria and got a bit turned around. Aside from that, The Embassy Suites is a straight shot up the highway. Bonus: Steak and Shake is across the parking lot. Also if you forgot anything, there’s Walmart, Target, and a ton of restaurants and stores nearby for those last minute zip ties and snacks.
I absolutely love this venue and the hotel staff.
So we got in on Thursday evening and started setting up. Artists were in the hallway this year with ample space between tables. We set up directly across from the dealer’s room doors, which was also close to main events. One of the nice things about being in the hall was the access to power. There were four outlets even ten feet so phone chargers and laptops were good to go.
Being in the hall, there was the concern that the side doors, which spanned half the hallway, would be letting in a lot of cold air as people came and went. Friday morning after a majority of vendors had set up, the hotel actually locked those doors. That was very nice, because it kept us warm, plus there were artist tables set up there and no one wanted crowds walking in behind their tables.
Despite being in the hallway, artists were asked to open and close the same hours as the dealer’s room. I like that system. Here’s why. Vendors in the dealer’s room want to be open as long as possible to make money too! It’s pretty unfair for artists to get to open 10, 12, 15 hours when the dealer’s are only open for 8. Another point is: while it’s nice to be able to open and close whenever to catch those early or last minute sales, you’re just killing yourself by not giving yourself decent hours. An 8 hour day is good, but 10 is usually my max. After all, if you go to conventions solely to make money and you’ll forego eating, sleeping, and just relaxing on a regular schedule, you’ll get sick of it really fast. Or just sick. Stay healthy by not overworking.
Shopping & Variety
All conventions run by this group sell their tables first come first served. Usually there’s the concern that without a jury or selection process, you might end up with a ton of one type of vendor, or just bad variety in general. This wasn’t the case last year, and not the case this year. There was a good mix of crafts, cosplay, prints, fanart and original work.
There was definitely plenty for everyone. I found quite a bit I wanted to buy and trade for. Typical of an anime convention, there weren’t too many high dollar items for sale from artists.
All right, the interesting stuff. This convention was very young, mostly teens and lots of children. On Friday, I had a huge buzz while setting up and made quite a bit of money in that first hour. The rest of the day trickled on with sparse sales as people were coming in and finally making it through the registration line (which was huge). I say sparse sales but not terrible. I made sales both large and small, but it just seemed like there was a lot of time in between. It was a fairly ok start, with some artists getting decent sales while others barely got a glance.
I keep wanting to say “typical” but that’s a little vague. Customers came in waves between events and it was pretty slow when the big panels were happening. That’s fair though. Also, mainstream anime things sold really well like Pokémon, Black Butler, and Vampire Knight.
Saturday I woke up to rain. Ugh. The morning was slow for me, with a lot of my teenage would-be patrons telling me they didn’t have any money left (already!) Traffic picked up a little after noon, but it was pretty unimpressive. I made a lot of $1-3 sales as people ran by between events for a quick button. Despite the large number of, “I’m out of money,” and, “I have to save the rest of my money for food,” I didn’t hear a single person complain about prices. Even about the dealer’s room! At the end of Saturday, we began packing up at 6pm and for whatever reason, sales picked up like crazy for almost an hour. I’m guessing a major panel must’ve let out because all the artists around me that were partly packed quickly unpacked to catch the tide.
By the time I woke up Sunday, I was so preoccupied with the snow and weather that I was ready to go. Despite being slowish all weekend, I had made enough to call it a successful weekend. I’d rather sacrifice those last few hours of open time than get snowed in East Peoria again like last year. Especially since the weather indicated that if we were to get stuck, we’d be stuck for a long while. X_X Nooooo!
My driver and I agreed to check the streets and weather at noon and roll out from there. It was snowing pretty heavily but it lightened up and wasn’t sticking anymore by noon.
Hours were also printed incorrectly on the badges. We thought artist alley closed at 1pm on Sunday, but it turned out we were supposed to be open until 5pm. While sales were ok, with lots of returning customers, we still packed up around 4ish and booked it back to the good ole state of Misery. But let me tell you, we were in a state of panic over the snow.
Staff & Volunteers
Staff are, as usual, friendly and fantastic. Emily, the wonderful person always running around taking care of artists, does a fantastic job. Her crew are very chill and easy to approach if you need anything. I’m sure they still get plenty of complaints and “suggestions” but they handle everything very well. I love their conventions.
Bonus! So I’ve started announcing that after July of this year, I will be taking a hiatus from conventions. I’m attending training for a real job (HA) that will go from August to December and all artistic endeavors will be put on hold indefinitely. I’m honestly not sure if I’ll ever hop back into conventions full steam again afterwards.