Flying home from a first-year trip to Tucson feels more like waking up from a dream rather than actually traveling back to where we started. Despite reading blogs, networking, and the researching we did prior to arriving in Arizona, nothing could possibly prepare us for the sheer volume and spectacle of vendors and crystals!
If you’re not familiar with the area’s gem and mineral scene, you might think that the Tucson Gem Show is the only show you can attend in February. You’d be wrong! The city-wide Tucson gem show season begins at the end of January and ends just before the official showcase.
The official show contains only the highest grade material. Some of the more majestic pieces have been bought and sold numerous times among collectors, galleries, and museums. This show exhibits the cream of the crop and most minerals are protected behind glass. Some are even off limits for photography! As a buyer for a shop, or a retail picker who wants to come home with some loot, the main show is probably not your best bet.
The Tucson airport was delightful: small, decorated with southwestern art, and staffed with friendly people. We were told that flying into Phoenix is cheaper, but after our excellent experience with the Tucson airport, I can’t see us choosing any other route. As a bonus, the rental car companies are located near the baggage claim, unlike the Denver airport where you have to take a long shuttle ride to find your rental car.
This year, our first, we decided to stay in the thick of the show. The main gem shows lie close to Highway 10, so we snagged a suite at the Country Inn, right in the middle of it all. The Country Inn is next to the Days Inn, which makes it easy to wander both lots on a slow morning. The Days Inn show has a few large tents around the outside, which mainly feature Moroccan and Chinese fossils and minerals. It’s got a garage sale vibe because each individual room houses mini-displays by individuals or small companies. It’s time-consuming to try and look through everything, since you have to go in and out of each room to see what the vendors offer. We found some great deals on fossils, and scored some excellent polished Madagascan material that was hidden away from the big show buyers. I recommend this show, but only if you’ve got the time required to explore it.
The Kino complex show opens a few days earlier than the others. This show is full of rough rock, mineral flats, many epic décor pieces, and offers free parking every day. We have some vendor friends at this show and went one full day. We returned for a few short trips, and still don’t feel like we saw everything there. The Kino show is for retail and wholesale buyers. The food court is a bit lacking, so consider packing snacks if you want to eat right.
As we drove out to the airport, we found out that the giant Holodome show was directly next door. We completely missed it!
We spent our second full day shopping the 22nd Street show. At this show, you pay for parking (more on weekends), but it is entirely indoors, which makes it ideal when the weather isn’t cooperating. We found a vast variety of polished minerals, Brazilian crystals, high-end pieces, opals, beads, and more. It was a fun place to shop, and we went back twice. There is a second tent called “the showcase” that features high-end minerals. I didn’t even peek in there for lack of time. The food court at 22nd is stellar. Go to shop, and stay to eat.
Onward to the Howard Johnson and Ramada shows across the underpass from 22nd street. Here, we paid to park, but you might be able to find a street spot if you search. There were a couple good vendors, and literally tons upon tons of medium-quality Brazilian material. There were some quality pieces to be found, but for our needs, this was our worst shopping day. There is no food here except a hotdog cart, so don’t arrive hungry or thirsty.
After a disappointing day at the “HoJo” show, we were relieved to see that Pueblo had some serious eye candy to offer. This show is located off highway 10 near a Carl’s Jr fast food joint. Why is this important, you ask? Because they have a vegan Beyond burger! The Pueblo show is home to the famous Bookbinder LLC who has a mind-bending selection of quartz furniture, as well as massive crystal clusters. This is the spot to take the epic selfies that people post during the Tucson and Denver shows. Part of Pueblo is in a tent containing wholesale items, and part is a hotel where you travel from room to room. There are some unbelievable retail display pieces on display here.
Directly next door to Pueblo is the Red Lion Show. This ended up being one of my favorite shows. There are plenty of tents and and a few indoor areas as well. High-end Brazil material is abundant, along with a few hidden treasures, like this rare material we scored from Poland! Inside the hotel we saw glass cases displaying extraordinary treasures and specimens from around the world. I felt like I could have come back and spent a second full day split between Pueblo and Red Lion.
We missed a bunch of shows. There were warehouses we could have gone to, and we didn’t see much of the city of Tucson. The time we spent at shows wasn’t nearly enough to see everything. We conducted multiple live stream sales, shipped almost 100 retail packages out from Tucson, and packed our pallet with over 1000 pounds of new inventory. Apparently, that wasn’t enough activity, because I had a nearly seven hour detailed color tattoo done by Nick Devo1 Rogalski at Twelve Five Twelve. This is a great shop and Nick is insanely talented. If you have a hankering for an epic tattoo, visit Twelve Five Twelve.
Among great memories from this year’s Tucson Gem Show extravaganza is one from our shop gathering at the Culinary Drop Out. I decided about a month ahead of the trip that I wanted to plan a dinner where we could all gather, away from the shows, and really get to know each other better. My friend Alex from www.RoughStone.Rocks offered to come on board to help support my little side project, and we hosted a joy-filled first annual networking dinner. Nearly 30 people attended, and everyone left the event feeling a deeper sense of community and a renewed passion for this work. I can’t wait to do it all again next year!