Returning visitors will notice some changes during this year’s Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show, but show organizers say attendees will likely notice the recently refurbished facility than any of the little tweaks that have been necessitated by the $6 million facelift of the New Balance Field House at the University of Maine in Orono.
“I think the exhibitors are going to be happy, and the public’s really going to be impressed,” said Woody Higgins, who helps organize the show for the Penobscot County Conservation Association.
The 76th edition of the show kicks off in two weeks, running from March 7-9 at the field house, Memorial Gymnasium and Stanley Wallace Pool.
But most of the exhibitors — and most of the attention — will be focused on the field house itself.
Higgins said officials at UMaine are understandably concerned about protecting the new floor that has been installed, and the PCCA has changed its floor plan and tinkered with show logistics in response.
At recent high school track meets held in the facility, no food or drink, with the exception of water, was allowed inside.
In past years, the PCCA-run concession stand has been a major money-maker for the club, according to Higgins. Keeping that concession stand was important to the club, which uses the proceeds from the show to fund youth camperships and college scholarships.
The solution: The club will move the expansive concession stand from its traditional spot on the field house track and set it up in Memorial Gym, in the same spot the stage has typically been set.
The 100 or so chairs that have always faced the stage will be turned around to face the other direction, and the stage will be set up near midcourt of the gym.
And while some exhibitors have sold food at their booths in the past, the PCCA will take additional precautions this year to protect the floor.
“Anybody that’s in the show that will be selling food, we’re asking them to tarp the floor [at their booth],” Higgins said.
The most obvious change for exhibitors themselves will be evident when they arrive to set up, Higgins said.
“There’s limited accessibility getting in where the overhead door used to be [on the Alfond Arena side of the field house],” he said. “So the moving in for the bigger [exhibitors] will be through the [other end of the field house].”
Some of those exhibitors have traditionally hauled boats into the facility easily.
“There’s no driving in and out like we’ve been able to do,” Higgins said, pointing out that smaller tow vehicles and human muscle power will be used this year.
For more than 80 years — and 75 previous editions of the show — outdoor enthusiasts have been flocking to the event, no matter what venue served as host for the event.
From the old Bangor City Hall to the (equally old) Bangor Auditorium to the (new, but recently demolished) Bangor Auditorium, the show has become a local rite of spring, even though it’s been held in February, March and April over the years.
Back in 1988, the show moved to UMaine, where it has been staged ever since.
And Higgins said this new version of the field house will be particularly appealing to attendees.
“I think people will be impressed with the brightness, the niceness,” he said.