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Originally published February 1, 2010 at 9:45 PM | Page modified February 2, 2010 at 11:44 AM

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Convention shows see an attendance increase

January and February are convention season in Seattle. Early 2010 shows indicate an increase in ticket sales, possibly because they provide affordable entertainment and good deals.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Upcoming shows

NW Flower & Garden:

Wednesday-Sunday, Washington State Convention Center

Seattle RV & Outdoor Recreation: Feb. 11-14, Qwest Field Event Center

Seattle Golf: Feb. 12-14, Qwest Field Event Center

Seattle Home: Feb. 20-28, Qwest Field Event Center

Biggest consumer shows in 2009

NW Flower & Garden Show 54,443
Penny Arcade EXPO 45,000
Seattle Green Festival 20,662
Sakura Con 16,586
Emerald City ComicCon 10,600

Source: Washington State Convention Center

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Convention-show season is upon Seattle, and attendance at the early shows suggests that more people interested in bridal gowns, boats and botanicals are turning out compared with the two previous years of the recession.

One of the first big events, the Seattle Wedding Show, buzzed Jan. 16 and 17 with soon-to-be brides searching through more than a 1,000 gowns, 400 vendors and some great deals.

"The best deal I found would have to be the dress," said attendee Maggie Baker. "I found a dress that I fell in love with and it was $300 off the original price tag. It was $899, so $599 for a gorgeous dress."

Baker said the vendor freebies, cake tastings, makeovers and deals are worth the price of admission.

About 9,000 paid $16 to attend this year's show, said producer Howard Jensen, compared with 7,136 last year, 7,012 in 2008 and 8,218 in 2007.

Show co-owner Don Berger said, "We think that brides postponed their weddings last year when the economy was even worse for most people, so more are looking to plan their wedding now."

The economy didn't keep people from buying tickets this year, a good sign for upcoming convention shows. January and February are popular months for convention and trade shows; the Seattle Wedding Show, the Bellevue Home Show, the Seattle Boat Show and the Northwest Flower & Garden Show all take place within four consecutive weeks.

The largest indoor show — the Northwest Flower & Garden Show — runs from Wednesday through Sunday at the Washington State Convention Center. Last June, creator Duane Kelly sold the show to O'Loughlin Trade Shows, which also produces the Portland Home & Garden Show and the Tacoma Home & Garden Show.

Attendance at the Seattle show has been consistent in recent years, at around 54,000, after peaking in 1999 at 84,000. Early 2010 ticket sales have increased 10 percent and the number of vendors is about 350, which is standard for the show.

Planners said the show will stay true to its roots.

"It will be very similar to past shows," said Barry Bartlett, whose firm, the Bartlett Group, handles the show's public relations. "We're building onto the original foundation with some new, fun attractions."

One of the show's 2010 additions is a "Butterfly House." Show attendees can take a tour through the exhibit, a net-enclosed space filled with more than 300 exotic butterflies.

"The real stars of the show, though, are still the display gardens," Bartlett said.

"They're all stunning and have their own personality set to dramatic lighting. They're a tradition, and I think people will be very pleased with what they see."

The 23 show gardens are inspired by this year's theme, "Beauty and Functionality," focusing on integrating environmentally sustainable features into gardens.

Sustainability was also a buzzword with the planners of last month's Bellevue Home Show.

"The economy impacted our approach to the show in a few ways, including the addition of a sustainable-living section," said spokeswoman Rosanne Cohn.

"People are looking for ways to make changes to the way they live because they want to save money. So, we have 'green' experts on hand to help attendants with water-conservation tips and other energy-efficiency questions," Cohn said.

For those inspired by first lady Michelle Obama's White House edible garden, attendees also had the opportunity to learn from experts about doing the same with their own lawn.

One of the show's exhibits, "Start with Art," featured work by local artists and was aimed at people decorating on a budget.

"Everyone wants to make their home more interesting," said Cohn, "and our art exhibit makes it easy for anyone on a budget to add a beautiful piece to their home décor, which is important in this economy."

The show booked all 150 of its vendor spaces, which was better than last year. About 12,000 tickets sold in 2009, and 2010 attendance was up at least 10 percent, said Cohn.

"The economy still isn't in great shape. People are looking for ways to save money, and I think that for a lot of people a big part of the mystique of convention shows is the good deals," said Cohn.

Like the other shows, producers of the Seattle Boat Show, running through Saturday at Qwest Field Event Center and on South Lake Union, expect to exceed last year's show attendance of 55,000.

Spokeswoman Lisa Samuelson said: "Boat shows have traditionally been the time and place to get good deals. Dealers offer special pricing and pass on incentives from manufacturers. This year will be no different."

Show organizers also anticipate benefiting from the cancellation of boat shows in Tacoma, Everett and Vancouver, B.C.

The Tacoma and Everett shows were dropped in part because of the slow economy, and the Vancouver show because of construction at BC Place, where the show is held.

"Seattle has always been the granddaddy of the shows, but now it's also the only show in the region this spring. This should be a boon for attendance," said Samuelson.

Organizers also see the New York Boat Show, which was Jan. 20-24, as further support 2010 attendance will be up.

The Soundings Trade Only Today, a marine-industry publication, reported that show's attendance increased 51 percent from last year.

Ticket prices for these shows range from $5 to $20 for the day. When a movie ticket runs more than $10, some see convention shows as an affordable alternative considering they get a day's worth of enjoyment.

For example, Baker was drawn to the Seattle Wedding Show partly because "it's an excuse to feel girlie, have fun and be around hundreds of other giddy people for a day."

Katie Ormsby: 206-464-3183 or kormsby@seattletimes.com

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