Last weekend I made my fifth visit to a pop culture event in Florida since COVID-19 took hold of the industry in mid-March of 2020. This time, however, I opted to observe from the other side of the fence: I purchased vendor space. We set up a booth to promote WasabiCon in Jacksonville, Florida and I followed all my usual precautions and then some:
Prior to discussing Jacksonville Anime Day, though, lets look at the events I’ve ventured out to prior and some related COVID-19 data. Here are the shows I attended linked to their respective blog posts.
- Orlando Area Toy Collectors Summer Pop-Up Show in Apopka, FL: June 15, 2020
- Hero Hype Tampa in Tampa, FL: June 20, 2020
- Collective Con in Jacksonville, FL: July 18 2020
- Orlando Toy Con in Orlando, FL: October 11, 2020
And here are the new reported cases of COVID-19 in Florida those days.*
- June 15, 2020: 1,758
- June 20, 2020: 4,049
- July 18: 2020: 10,328
- October 11, 2020: 5,570
*Source: The New York Times
This past Saturday, January 16, 2021, Jacksonville Anime Day took place in northeast Florida. The total reported new cases that day? 12,119. Yesterday, Sunday, the DeLand Comic and Collectibles Show took place and, this coming weekend, the Sunshine State will see a two day anime event take place in Miami: Otakufest. After that? There are over a dozen more pop culture gatherings planned before the summer. You can see my complete list here.
So let’s talk about Jacksonville Anime Day. As I mentioned before, I opted to purchase a booth at this event in order to observe a “COVID convention” from a different point of view. Here’s what I saw:
Booths were spaced out from each other. Extra gaps were placed between booths to keep the vendor staff distanced from one another and the promotor encouraged exhibitors to place boxes/storage in those gaps so that attendees wouldn’t attempt to walk between booths. Note that we used our sign and storage bins on the sides of our table.
Temperature checks took place before entering the vendors room and masks were required. During the course of the day I only had to tell two people (both grown men) to pull their masks up. Other than that, everyone seemed to adhere to the policy.
A hand sanitizer station was at the entrance and social distancing was encouraged. “Encouraged,” though, only works so much when there is no enforcement. Attendees would bunch up near popular booths and no one in the line observed social distancing. This was, however, even worse outside the vendors room… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Traffic was one way in the vendors room and attendance in the room was limited. This worked pretty well. For our booth, we encouraged attendees to take flyers that contained prices lists for things we were selling and to read them while walking around the one way circle. At the entrance of the room, people were staggered in and out making sure that no more than 85 attendees (+15 vendors staff, 100 people total) were allowed in at a time.
Inside the vendors room (the only Jacksonville Anime Day room, there were no panel rooms, etc.) felt safe enough given the circumstances. A pandemic era pop culture event isn’t ever safe, but the promotor’s plans for inside the event created a comfortable shopping experience. Outside the room, however, was another circumstance altogether. Here are photos for the line to get in that ran through the lobby out of the entrance of the hotel.
The line led to this registration table. Note the protective screen between the staffer and the attendees.
Here’s a link to a time lapse video I took showcasing the line of people waiting to get into the Jacksonville Anime Day vendors room at around noon. As you can see, this was the part of the event that was a serious problem. Fans were crammed on top of each other with zero social distancing. Apparently there was no plan in place ahead of time for line direction or for managing spacing within the line.
I spoke to the John Lo, the person who runs the Anime Day events, after the vendors room closed and he told me that significantly more people came to the event than anyone was anticipating. According to John, they sold approximately 1,200 tickets at the door but decided to refund over 100 of those at the end of the line when they realized that they wouldn’t get in. Additionally, they turned away another 100-200 people that showed up to get tickets that afternoon letting them know that the event was “sold out”.
Basically, 1,400 people turned out for what was expected to be a 500 person event.
So what’s the takeaway here? Should promotors be planning for larger numbers with so few events happening now? Are people so tired of being cooped up from a pandemic that more and more are risking going to events like this again?
Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading.