Planners throw in trowel on garden show

Posted Jan. 27, 2009, at 9:18 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — For the first time in 18 years, spring-starved Mainers won’t be able to get a preview of the season at the Bangor Garden Show in early April. The show has been canceled due to financial reasons.

The show will return in 2010, organizers say, but its loss still leaves a hole this year in the local gardening and landscaping economy — and in the spirits of those who look forward to it annually.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Carol Smith of Brewer, the director of the Penobscot District of the Garden Club Federation of Maine. “I’ve always thought it was just the most exciting way to start off spring. To walk into that room and smell the soil — it just perks up the growing instincts.”

The garden show’s cancellation puts it in rarefied company. The 137-year-old New England Spring Flower Show in Boston has been significantly downsized due to economic and other troubles and organizers at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society have started a fundraising campaign to restore the show in 2010.

The Portland Flower Show, now billed as “the only flower show in Northern New England,” still will be held March 11–15.

No other annual consumer events have been canceled this year at the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center, according Mike Dyer, director of Bass Park. The Bangor Camping and RV Show is going on this weekend as scheduled.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Dyer said of the garden show, which has been held at the Bangor complex since 1991. “Our job is to bring in as many events as we can. It leaves a big hole in the calendar.”

The show is the primary fundraiser for Keep Bangor Beautiful, a nonprofit organization that is responsible for recycling and litter and graffiti cleanup in the city.

According to Keep Bangor Beautiful President Scott Wilkerson, over the last three years a dramatic increase in the garden show’s costs and a decline in attendance have meant that the net profit trickled down to just under $19,000 last year.

“We’re attempting to pay a full-time director, cover our litter cleanup activities and our graffiti activities. That $19,000 doesn’t go far,” Wilkerson said.

Individual ticket sales for the event have dropped from 15,000 10 years ago to 7,286 last year, according to Bass Park figures. It’s still one of the best-attended consumer shows held at the facility, Dyer said.

The vendors in the marketplace pay a fee to exhibit their wares at the show, but Keep Bangor Beautiful pays landscapers a sum of money per square foot for their displays. In 2008, that cost $16,000. That is one major cost of the event, organizers said. Other major costs include specialty lighting, Bass Park rental, and more than $18,000 on advertising.

There has been a decline in money earned from the vendors over the last two years of the show, but Wilkerson wasn’t sure whether or not this drop can be attributed to problems in the national economy or if the pattern would have continued this year.

He and others in Keep Bangor Beautiful wrestled with what to do about this year’s scheduled garden show, but decided about two weeks ago to call it off. But they’re not throwing in the trowel for good, and planning for the 2010 show already has started.

“It’s a building opportunity,” Wilkerson said. “Folks will be disappointed, but they should not fear the garden show will not come back. It will come back, in a bigger and better format.”

Changes may include a partnership with Bass Park or other interested agencies, and downsizing the scope of the landscaping exhibits, Wilkerson said.

“If we’re going to have a show at all, we’re going to make some changes,” he said. “But it’ll have the displays, it’ll have some vendor-related stuff, it’ll have that first blast of spring that we all die for.”

Next year’s garden show doesn’t help landscapers and vendors who were hoping to generate some business from this year’s event, however.

“There’s nothing else like it in the area. There’s no substitute,” said Mary Lou Hoskins, the owner of Greencare Plantscapes, a small garden center in Hermon. “It’s always a nice little bit of cash flow in April and that’s going to be missed.”

David Mitchell, the owner of Mitchell’s Landscaping in Brewer, called the show’s cancellation disappointing.

“It’s a big part of our advertising, a big part of our jobs,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people come through the door and a lot of them are looking for landscaping ideas.”

Mitchell expressed some frustration with the decision that was made.

“We’ve been in business for over 22 years. We’ve had some hard years, but we don’t just throw in the towel,” he said. “Keep Bangor Beautiful and the Bangor Garden Show aren’t helping the economy this year by pulling out.”

But organizers said that holding a half-hearted version would be worse in the end than having no show at all.

Bass Park’s Dyer said that it’s general knowledge in his industry that groups spend five years recovering from less-than-impressive shows.

“They made the right decision to step back, take a year off and take a deep breath,” Dyer said. “These shows are tough because they require so much work and they’re very expensive.”

For more information, and updates on the 2010 show, visit the garden show Web site at www.bangorgardenshow.com.

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

990-8133

BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO

Thousands of people turned out for the 15th annual Bangor Garden Show at the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center in 2005.

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