Convention Accommodations from an Insider’s Perspective
In this episode we talk to Jon Engel, a promoter for 3 Rivers ComiCon, a convention happening in Pittsburgh on May 22 and 23. With the re-opening of Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, precautions announced for Celebration 2022, and small and large events making plans to resume, we discuss what considerations Jon takes into account to allow for accommodations when planning an inclusive event. We also talk about the impact of COVID on Jon’s convention planning, and what precautions they’ll be taking at the con.
About Resilience Squadron
Resilience Squadron is a monthly podcast on the Skywalking Through Neverland Network where Greg Norman and Jack Vasvary share and discuss great stories related to disability, chronic illness, and mental health within the Star Wars fandom.
Jack: Hey, everyone, welcome to Resilience Squadron. I’m Jack.
Greg: And I’m Greg.
Jack: So, Greg, I know you got your second vaccine last week. You wanna tell everybody how that went for you?
Greg: Yeah sure. It’s a weird feeling, because it was actually a bit rough for me, but also like, really rewarding. Like I feel better than I have in a long time, just because a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And yeah that’s even with all the weird side effects I experienced.
Jack: Right. I’ve heard similar stories. I’ll actually get my second shot later this week.
Jack: And I think yeah, like, the good thing is like, just like you were saying, people are having a lot of side effects. But I think the overall outcome is worth it.
Jack: And like you said, it’s nothing to shy you away from getting it. But I think yeah, I mean, going through the side effects is worth being immune. And hopefully us getting back to normal.
Greg: Right, exactly. Everyone is going to have different experiences. But they’re all better than COVID, and they’re all worth it for the end result.
Greg: That relates a lot to our topic this month, actually, which is about addressing accommodations when you’re planning an event, as well as some of the necessary sacrifices we’re having to make with those events due to COVID.
Jack: Exactly. Right.
Greg: And in general we’re going through a time right now where Star Wars fans are seeing parks reopening, a few gatherings, and more and more events getting scheduled.
Greg: In fact we recently saw an announcement about the dates for Celebration 2022 getting moved up, and the organizers also included detailed information about the COVID guidelines they’ll be enforcing to ensure the safety of their guests, such as requiring masks, encouraging social distancing, avoiding handshakes, things like that. One of those requirements is that they won’t be allowing costume masks or helmets. And that’s really unfortunate. In fact, it really sucks. But it’s one of those things that I hope people adjust to and adapt without too much difficulty, because as we said, some of these things are just necessary sacrifices to be able to have these events in the first place.
Greg: So let’s get to talking more about those challenges, as well as accommodations in general, with this month’s guest.
Now it’s time for our Mission Briefing, our monthly deep dive into a specific topic related to disability in the Star Wars fandom or universe.
Jack: So this month, we are talking to our special guest, Jon Engel, who is the regional manager of New Dimension comics, here in western Pennsylvania. New Dimension comics has six locations in the Pittsburgh area. And Jon is also the promoter of 3 Rivers Comicon, which is an annual comic book convention here in western Pennsylvania. So let’s welcome Jon Engel on to the show. And how are you doing Jon?
Jon: Good, good. Thanks for having me on, guys.
Jack: Thank you for coming on.
Greg: Thanks for coming.
Jack: So why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role and need to mention comics and more so in with 3 Rivers Comicon.
Jon: Well, I was born on a rainy Monday morning in October. No, really, it was like 8:15 in the morning on October 5. But my mom always loved to tell me how much it was raining. Anyway. I grew up in, I grew up in the middle of the state. I then went to a state school Clarion University where I got a music business degree. That degree got me into retail. Retail brought me to Pittsburgh. My wife and I met in college, we both moved to Pittsburgh the same time in 2007. We’ve been down here since. I started shopping in New Dimension comics around that time while working at KB Toys. So my background is even crazier in toys. Awesome. And then so so my nerd dumb, is is crazy, because it’s like toys, comics music. Like it’s all one big giant ball of art to me. So it’s a lot of fun. But then I started working at our old Century III location, which no longer exists because the mall shut down. But then I worked my way up to manager at our Mills location. And now I’m the regional manager. I’ve been doing that for about six years. And then with 3 Rivers Comicon, that’s a kind of a fun story. So my boss, Todd, who owns the company, he and I were driving home one day from having wings where we normally have our business meeting. I think we were driving home from somewhere in Elwood back to Cranberry. And we started talking about the old Pittsburgh Comicon. And because it had sold the wizard world, and then it moved downtown. And because it changed so much of what it was doing. And it kind of just it didn’t it wasn’t the same event. And we said you know we kind of want to do something a little more traditional focus it on comics, artists, creators, and not do the TV and movie stuff that a lot of other cons do. We may have a little bit of that. But our general rule for that right now at least has got to be it has to be something related to Pittsburgh,
Jack: And you want to focus on the art…
Jon: Right. Yeah, cuz that’s what we deal with. So we kind of set in motion this movement, you know, and our tagline is, you know, putting the comics back in Comic Con and It’s heavy vendor focused, heavy creator focused. And even our panels are, we’ve been morphing them slowly into more of like, not just the panel where you’re going to go and hear somebody talk about fun stories. While that’s awesome. And I love hearing stories from dudes like Ron Frenz, because he has got some really awesome stories. We were really trying to morph them into more of like a masterclass style event very similar to like what you see it like HeroesCon. Like we’ve had some really great panels that we’ve had, like mental health and suicide prevention in the nerd community. We had empower, like, like a women’s focused, like empowering women and women in comics, we do a bunch that focus on Kickstarters. We really try to make it more than just like I said, storytelling panels, like, those are fun, but they’re also sort of boring. Like if you’re getting paid to go to this thing, and you’re going to take time off the floor to go to a panel, you should learn something in my opinion.
Greg: Right. So that’s actually our goal this month. In this episode, we’re focusing on what goes into providing accommodations for disabled fans and fans with chronic conditions at events, any which might affect whether or not they can even attend an event such as yours, or how much they’ll be able to enjoy it. We know you put a lot of thought and effort into this aspect of your convention. And we’re hoping we can help educate anyone who might be planning an event of their own, large or small.
Jack: You know, if we can help make an event better, that helps not only the disability community but helps you guys too, because you know, makes you look good. You’ll get more customers, you’ll make more money, and then everybody’s happy.
Jack: So one of the things, again, Greg and I have spoken about this from more so my involvement as an outsider and somewhat of an insider, but we wanted to get a promoter’s perspective on it. So one of the questions is like, when you guys are planning an event, such as 3 Rivers Comicon, the comics and collectibles shows, I guess, what’s the discussion, if there is one, concerning accommodations for our guests with certain needs?
Jon: I think mostly it just comes down to like, so there’s, there are laws obviously in, in the US and in the state of Pennsylvania that we live in, that we have to abide by anyway, we have to abide by them in the store. So you have to have a walkway a certain width, you have to have handicap accessible, like certain things. Like if it’s two floors, you have to have an elevator of some sort. So, you know, we, it’s mostly twofold, because for, let’s just use your example Jack, because you’re in a wheelchair, right? So it works out twofold, because if we can go – Alright, this guy in a wheelchair can make it up this ramp, that means a vendor can wheel his cart up this ramp, you know what I mean? So it becomes an extra entrance and exit for load in and load out, let alone for anyone with disabilities to come through. We also like to, and I know that some other shows don’t do this as well. But we actually like to have a wider aisle when it comes to layout. Because we found that it’s not just like if you have the aisle too close. You have too many people like if they’re trying to sit there and actually look at stuff. There’s sometimes too many people coming in behind them that I’m trying, okay, it’s called the butt brush effect. This is a legitimate thing. It’s in a book called Why We Sell. You should read it if you’re ever interested in some really crazy, like, reasons why people buy things and like the mental steps they go through. It’s called the butt brush effect. So the buck brush effect is when you’re standing there looking at something and somebody comes behind you, and you can actually feel them rub across your butt. That close right. So, um, what sucks for people who are in wheelchairs is that becomes like a lighter problem than someone who can walk and turn sideways. Because now it’s not just like an awkward butt brush. It’s, it’s no man, this is how I got to get through. Right?
Jack: And the other thing too, like, Yes, I am literally six foot one, but in the chair on barely five foot. So it’s hard to see. It’s not hard to see me. But I mean, again, if you’re at a busy con, yeah, with so many distractions and so much going on,
Jon: Yeah, a couple thousand people in there and…
Jack: What I absolutely love about 3 Rivers Comicon, in particular is there was enough, there’s enough room in the aisle for people to stand and look at the tables on the left side. People will look at the tables on the right side, and for through-traffic. So you have people, you know, taking pictures with cosplayers,
Jon: I was gonna say that also benefits the cosplayers. Yeah,
Jack: gathering and congregating in the middle. You don’t have to… excuse me, please kind of get through. There’s so much room. And that’s just, I think that’s a huge benefit.
Jon: We try to make them I think 10 feet, like it minimum 8, but we try to keep it 10. We’ve just found that that’s a very good width. And I actually picked that up from going to shows that had a much bigger attendance, like New York, it’s usually 10, Baltimore, it’s usually 10, C2E2, things like that. And that was some of the things like when I go to shows and then because of a promoter, I look at these weird things that no one else looks at, right? Like no random attendee is going to look at that and be like, Man, that aisle is so wide, like, but look at how they easily get through with this cosplayer taking pictures and people can still go around. It really works out in that perspective to make sure that it works out for not just like for people with wheelchairs, it works out for everybody. You know, it’s a benefit for everyone. And it also helps the traffic flow better. So more people are seeing more things. So it’s kind of a, it’s a win-win, like anything you can do to help someone with a disability through the show is going to help people without disabilities do the show.
So why not do it? Make the aisle a little wider, you know, like, make sure that you aren’t like leaving random [R2D2 sound effect] in the aisles, like that’s like that, to me is a giant pet peeve when like you have like, like when vendors just like let stuff come out into the aisleway. And like you trip on stuff as you take a corner. Or in your case, just run it over – move your stuff! Like I’m waiting for the day you show up with like tank treads, that’s gonna be awesome. [Laughs] That is something that we look at… is most very specifically the aisleways were things that we discussed with that. And you were actually the person we thought of, like if Jack vends at this, we need to be able to make sure that he can get through stuff and not have to wait on people who don’t give a [R2D2 sound effect] because they’re idiots. And people that are shopping. And I wanted to make sure that that was a thing. I wanted to make sure that in the panel room, there was space for people with wheelchairs to just park at the end of rows, like like, kind of like in theaters where you see handicap accessible spots. We wanted to make sure that there was no weird multi-tier stuff. We try to keep everything on the same level. Basically, like even our panels were on the same level. There’s no like stage to it.
Jack: I’m glad you didn’t though, because like I ran into that situation one time actually. Well, friend of mine did.
Jack: We were at a particular show when they had guests, they had celebrity guests and they were on these little makeshift platforms. And there was only like two or three steps to get onto them. But if you’re in a wheelchair, one step doesn’t cut it. You can’t do it. And so the celebrity I wanted to meet she was real cool and she actually came down the steps and met me for my friends who wanted to meet this one celebrity he decided he didn’t want to come down now yes, you can definitely blame him for part of it because he’s just being a jerk, but for whatever reason decided not to get down.
Jon: I… there’s definitely both. There’s definitely multiple possibilities.
Jack: But at the same time, if they had everything on ground level, it wouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.
Jon: Or at least have a ramp if you’re gonna have a platform, have a ramp.
Jack: And then Greg and I talked about a couple of shows earlier where I guess Peter Mayhew was a guest celebrity at a show. And no one told him he was coming in a chair.
Greg: It was him and David Prowse.
Jack: And so they had to figure out crap, how we’re going to get David Prowse and Peter Mayhew who were sort of kinda big news. I think I’ve heard of them a little bit. How we can get them on stage. And you know, and they did it. But you know, it’s, it’s one of those things, I think it would be nice if they thought of that thing ahead of time. In the planning process.
Greg: It said a lot that even major well known celebrities, but also their featured guests were not, you know, prepared for, not accommodated.
Jon: Yeah, it, it also might be a thing where it’s gonna sound really terrible where the… maybe the promoter didn’t know.
Greg: But yeah, that’s where education matters.
Jon: The idea would be that everyone should prepare for that possibility. Right?
Jack: That’s one thing too is like, yeah, obviously, like, okay, for instance, let’s say you, Jon, overlook something? Well, it’s, it’s kind of hard to blame you. Because, I mean, you’re not in a wheelchair. So how are you supposed to know all of, say, my needs? Now, a lot of it’s common sense, obviously. But unless you’ve been in my shoes, or a person with a, you know, a sight impairment or hearing impairment? How are you really supposed to know all their needs? So it is easy to overlook things once in a while. I forgive a lot of stuff because it very few cases, it’s a matter of, like discrimination or not caring? Not, that’s a very, I’ve run into that. But it’s so far and few between.
Jon: Yeah. I mean, we we’ve, I guess, maybe we’re just, we’re very blessed with knowing, basically, the idea of, we know some customers in the store with certain disabilities, and they are most likely going to come to the show. And they are most likely going to come to the show. So if I can get them, if they’re coming to the show, how do I make it so that if, I don’t know, maybe Jack has like, a group of people who are all going to show up in wheelchairs that he’s just like, come on, nerds on wheels, let’s go. And we’ve had, we’ve had guests who are like, legally blind, we have guests who have to have, like, therapy animals. So you know, we have guests who have had crutches, we’ve had guests who have wheelchairs, we have guests with one arm, I mean, you know, we’ve had a little bit of everything. And because we’re, we’re already aware of that normally, or those people that want to be vendors or artists or guests at our show, usually are very upfront about it. Like I remember the first time you applied for the show, then you were like, Hey, man, just you know, like, I need this this this, I have this question this question this question. And it… you know, because you knew me before that, I think it was a little easier to ask those questions. But those were all things, everything that you had said in that email of questions I’d already been thinking about because I saw your application come through. And like I said, I’m like, Well, I got one, probably gonna have another one at some point. So you know, and then I’ve seen guests, you know, like, maybe it’s not the guest, but maybe it’s their wife or husband or handler, you know, like, I remember going to Baltimore one year. And there’s Walt Simonson. And his wife. Weezie is in a chair cuz she broke her leg and she’s in a wheelchair, half the time and she’s on a scooter the other, so, you know, how do you deal with that? Because, and I had to think about that… was like, man, how do they deal with it because it’s down a floor from the street level. And I was like, Oh, yeah, there’s like three elevators over there. So that’s obviously how that worked. So that was that like, so it’s kind of a thing where like our first couple years shows we did them in old department stores that we converted ourselves. So part of that was cool because a lot of those stores are already set up for ADA stuff. Like there’s already some kind of ramp, there’s already an elevator if they need it. There’s usually handicap accessible restrooms because that’s something that just has to happen, right? So it, it kind of worked out well for us that way for those shows, and then, you know, last year we were, we were all excited because we were gonna get onto the DLC, which is the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. And then COVID happened, act of God part of our contract kicked in, contract gets cancelled, shoot, now what? So we postponed to this year, now we’re doing everything outside into the parking lot. So it’s all flat, right?
Jack: Well it’s Pittsburgh, so you never know.
Jon: True! So it’s it, you know, but there’s also like, there’s also like, area transportation buses that will provide handicap transportation. So we don’t really need to usually worry about that. Some people ask about it. But as far as I understand it in this area, and I don’t know if it’s like that everywhere in the US, but pretty much like if you need that ride, they will schedule it and make it work for you.
Jack: And transportation here in the Pittsburgh area, that’s even a nice thing that we have.
Greg: I think what you’re saying about like, I guess the facilities you use, like, that’s partly where I think people probably need to take those kind of things into account in choosing the facility that they want to use. So they’re not just picking some location where it’s doesn’t have those things built in.
Jon: I mean, I would probably, and I really will, I really hope I never have to, like eat crow and this, but I really don’t ever want to have to do my show in a place that doesn’t have a hard floor. Because like I’ve been to shows in like sporting centers, where it’s like on a soccer field, like the astroturf, some of them are nice, because they’re like a little harder of a turf. And some of them are not, and you see like a dude, like a regular guy like me, it’s sinking in there. And I’m like, wobbling on the floor. And I’m like, I’d be like, man, if Jack came to the show, he’d be stuck. Like he’d just sink. And then I’m like, how do you even do that be like, do you just have two guys push and help you through? Like, like, do we just get you a sled and pull you like…
Jack: Can we do that?
Jon: That’s up to you man. Like I used to, I used to watch my friends, like, put on rollerblades and hang on the back of cars and trucks and rid around parking lots and yeah, whatever. We could do that too. If you want to totally be like, like that scene with like, what like Stan Lee in the truck with Mjolnir on the back? Have you tried that?
Jack: I did that on my friend’s, on the back of his bike one time in college. I held on to his bike chain while he pulled me. Let’s just say it didn’t end very well.
Jon: Was gonna say what did you top speed at?
Jack: After I fell out?
Jon: Yeah, all joking aside, though, like, I just don’t think most people are… if they’re going to run a convention, if they’re going to run an event… most places nowadays when you rent those places, they are all mostly ADA compliant. The biggest problem that you’re gonna see is layout….
Jack: Yes, yes, yes.
Jon: Because even if you go to like New York Comic Con, the Javits Center has, has ramps on it. And then there’s elevate, there’s like three or four elevators throughout the building. So and then the floors are super wide. Like they’re, I think 12 feet aisles, even though they are completely shoulder to shoulder front, front to back. It is it is nuts. Like if you if you’ve ever driven in New York, you when you go into the show, that’s what it’s like walking through the show is like driving in New York.
Jack: Speaking of layout, I’ve definitely seen the gamut of good and bad layout. Like I’ve been to certain shows where the tables are packed like sardines. I’ve actually had a hard time and talked to my table mates on the side of me and said, Hey, would you guys mind sliding your table down just a little bit. And most of the time, it’s been really cool, but some of them, like they’ve needed that space for their stuff.
Jon: Yeah, most of our vendors spaces are 10 by 10 squares. So if you buy like a vendor thing, like you’re going to be selling a ton of stuff. They’re more expensive and it’s usually 10 by 10 Square and you can either get an inline or corner depending on what your what your layout to be. But then for artists alley, and like I guess we’ll call them like special guest type things like higher-end creators that we bring in. We… our artists alley is set up as it’s basically an eight by six block right eight feet wide, six feet deep. And there’s a six foot table in there, then you can use that space however you want. But you can’t go past it. And we try to do that because it’s…it breaks so people can see the next person. And they’re not just thinking, it’s all one big line of people, that it’s easier for people to focus on that person. Or maybe all of a sudden, somebody finds something, and all of a sudden, there’s a big line, there’s a little bit more space to get around. And there’s enough room behind them, that they can put a banner, they can put a small rack if they wanted. And they’re not on top of the person behind them, either. But yeah, I definitely have been to shows where people are, side by side by side by side for like, six or seven tables. And then no one knew the dude in the wheelchair was coming, so they put them in the middle. And it’s like, what do you do? Like, I don’t understand why that promoter wouldn’t be like, Oh, crap, I’m sorry. And just switch them with someone on the end. Like, that’s the easiest accommodation. So… or if they know ahead of time, why they don’t plan for that, that person to be on an end. Hell, man, we do all this big space, and we still plan for, if anyone has wheelchairs, try to put them on an end. So it’s easier, you know…
Jack: Well that’s the one thing that I noticed was like, sometimes like, like, you guys have always been accomodating, like so even like, the one time and I don’t know if we want will include this or not, because I don’t want people hitting you up all the time. But like, one time, I was doing the show by myself. And I just took all my stuff, the NDC cranberry, and then you transferred it over to my table. And then vice versa. So I wouldn’t have to worry about it. But I’ve been to shows too where I said, Hey, you know, when I’m coming by myself, and then also too with particular shows don’t require everybody to buy a wristband, even if they’re just like, helping me get literally from the entrance to my table.
Jack: And why am I gonna pay all that money for somebody to help me for like, two minutes, and I get like, they, their show was really huge. So they didn’t really have the manpower to help me.
Jon: When it comes to help accommodating people, I think we will always be as helpful as we can, without where we start feeling like we’re being taken advantage of would will stop. so far that hasn’t happened. But I mean, we’ve done like, when a publisher goes, Hey, I’m flying in from New York, I’m just gonna send a pallet, can I just mail it to a store? We’re gonna say absolutely, you know, because or, or to the convention center, or to wherever the event wherever the event is, right. And that that’s a very big practice in bigger shows is like, you know, like, when Marvel shows up in New York, they don’t just like, get in it, throw it in a truck and drive it down the street, right? Like they, they ship it, they palletize it, ship it and it shows up on a truck. And then they just drop it in their booth. And then they put it all together. And then they take the pallet away, then they bring the pallet back later. But for like, I also know your setup. And I know it’s not a ton of stuff. Like if you were like if you would have gotten a 10 by 10 and been like, I need you to put these 40 long boxes in the store and then take them down there for me, I’d have been like, Jack, I think you need to hire somebody.
Jack: We’re doing that this year we’re getting two tables, so… I agree!
Jon: But that’s kind of the thing. And to go on the point of the people to help, I guess, most shows, most at least that I’ve vended almost every show, I’ve vended at if you get a booth, you get two passes. Okay? Now sometimes the problem with those two passes are for cases like yours is maybe that one person helps you set up cannot be the same person that helps you tear down. Now I get that I get that problem. I would probably just give the person who can help me set up that one, and then just encourage the person who’s going to help me tear down to just buy a ticket for that day and come and hang out. Because normally that’s what’s going to happen anyway.
Jack: Yeah, I’ve done that.
Jon: Or if you know another vendor, yeah. Or if you know another vendor or artists that is friendly with you
Jack: I’ve done that too.
Jon: They can help you out. Yeah, I mean, Jesse used to help you out all the time.
Jack: Yeah, exactly right. used to going back to the case where I was denied help. I think it was definitely a case because I’ve heard that particular promoter has been taken advantage of.
Jack: um, so
Jon: I can’t confirm that.
Jack: Now that’s what I’ve heard. So but that’s so I think and I can’t confirm or deny it either. But I think what you just said yourself, you know, is definitely a possibility where a promoter’s generosity was taken advantage of. So then they had to enforce stricter rules, because…
Jack: Somebody had to spoil it for everybody, that that could have been the case.
Jon: Like, or it’s, you know, because I know some vendors, it’s like, I haven’t seen this a lot, but I know some vendors do one person per table, right. And then you have to anyone else past that, it’s usually like a discounted rate for that extra person to be working in the booth. But they have to be working the booth, they have to be there on a certain day. Like I said, every show is different. And I don’t know, it could be like, like we said, it could be a vendor or a promoter got taken advantage of, it could be, maybe they normally would have a bigger staff, but maybe they can’t this year, or maybe they just don’t have the staff to do it anyway. You know, because like, you know, normally we do, we in the past, we’ve done volunteer staff. This year, we’re doing volunteer stuff, because we only need them for like two hours to help make sure everybody gets where they’re going. And then they’re done. Like, they don’t need to stay all day. They can if they want, they don’t need to. But normally, when we do our big weekends, we do pay our staff, so we expect them to do what I need them to do, which also includes stuff like, hey, this guy asked to go to the bathroom, I need to watch his booth.
Jack: That’s one thing I love that you guys do. And this going back to the whole thing of helping everybody actually, in turn, helps your disabled guests. Because by having your staff come to our tables on a regular basis, saying, Hey, man, do you need some food do you need some water? Do you need to go stretch? Do you need to go to the bathroom? I’ll watch your table? Or
Jon: Go smoke or whatever you need to do
Jack: You know, I always stay at my table. I don’t. But… [laughs]
Jon: No, I’ve definitely seen you in the green room every once in a while grabbing, grabbing something to eat that’s it, that’s…
Jack: That’s a good advantage to have that as a disabled person, or a chronically ill person, or again, somebody who’s just had chemo the day before or had dialysis the day before is let’s say you’re disabled in the green room is clear on the other side of the building? Well, having one of your staff come say – Hey, can I go get something? It’s such a huge, huge relief. And just such a wonderful amenity that isn’t always provided. And again, it’s not I don’t think I don’t think certain shows don’t provide it because they don’t want to, which is again, to me a staffing problem, or they don’t have the resources…
Jon: It may also be the venue too because like some venues like the good part about what we did the first couple years, when we were literally taking a room cleaning it out and making it something workable was you know, we made a green room for all the vendors and staff. So we treated absolutely all of them 100% the same way. Like you didn’t have to have your name on a list to get in there. You just had to have the vendor badge to get in or the vendor wristband to get in there. And it was it was nothing crazy though it was just like bottle water, a couple cans of different kinds of soda or pop. And then like some snacks type stuff, like, you know, crackers and cheese or Snickers bar, you know, and like I said, it could be the venue too, because like, some venues, like when we were a Century III, we had an old mall. We could have food trucks out front Waterfront said no, sorry, guys, no food trucks. You know? You know, when when we were talking to the David L. Lawrence, they were also like no food trucks. Like, or you can’t have food vendors unless they buy out whatever the contract is like for their space from the contract to the food vendor that they have is an actual concession people, you know, so there, there’s a give and taken in there. And I think some people do better with it than others. So it’s again, just everybody’s different.
Jon: And never. There’s no promoter that wants the show to be bad.
Jack: Exactly right.
Jon: How’s that?
Jack: You know. And that’s the thing,
That’s why always take it easy on people again, because we know there are a lot of logistics that happen and plus too again, I know, you can absolutely attest to this. You’re not going to think of every single scenario. There’s always going to be something that goes wrong, but I think as long as you can minimize all the scenarios, you’ve done your job.
Greg: And that’s also like our we’ve talked a bit about that, that’s kind of our purpose here, you know, is education and use this as a way, at least one way of like spreading these ideas and getting people to think about them and consider the different needs and options to accommodate people. And it’s also a big part of where like, you have a good example here of having a having a guest, who you’re familiar with, like Jack who think, Okay, what is Jack going to need, and you can actually talk to him, and include him in that process. I think that’s always an important thing I think people should try to do is to include people as much as you can, if you if you have a blind guest who comes regularly, you know, to talk to them and find out, what do you need? What works for you usually? and what doesn’t work for you when you go to these kind of things? You know,
Jon: Right. If we really, I guess, I guess we get another great opportunity, because we have six stores year round, right? I go to all six stores. So if somebody’s like, Hey, I went to the show, or Hey, I wanted to thank you because you did a good job, or, hey, it was – wonder if you can get this guest and blah, blah, blah. Those are kind of the guys where I kind of go – Okay, well, hey, like, what do you like? What did you not like? We tried this this year? Like, what do you think about doing this? And I like to bounce ideas off those people. Because the show’s not always for me. I mean, obviously, it is for me, but the end goal is I’m happy when the vendors are happy, the artists are happy, and the attendees are happy. You know, how do I get the most people happy at the same time. And another thing that we try to do is we try to have like a sitting area where people can take a break. Right?
Jon: Because like my wife,
Greg: I appreciate that.
Jon: No, yeah. Like, like so. So for instance, like my wife has MS. So if it gets too hot, she’s gonna need to sit down. So, boom, there’s a spot. That’s probably one of the reasons why she doesn’t work on the staff. But But, you know, if somebody said, you know, look, and I know, I know, some other vendors who have this similar kind of stuff, or they have anxiety issues, so they need to be near a door, or they need to be on an end or whatever. And I’m cool. Like, I’m a kind of promoter that I’m going to work with you as much as I possibly can. If you’re really late to the game, though, I don’t know. Like, I’ll do everything I can, but I can’t promise I can’t promise the moon, you know. So…
Jack: I guess a big thing, too, is and what we’re big proponents of is communication. That’s, that’s what I think one of the big goals is with the disabled community is again, communication. And not only teaching, but learning from each other. That’s the way we’re all going to work together.
Greg: Yeah. I think also, I want to touch on the fact that you’ve mentioned a few times. But there’s like… there’s an actual term for this concept of kind of, like universal design.
Jon: The ADA compliance, that kind of stuff..?
Greg: Yeah, yeah. When you build something or create something geared around disabled needs, or like extreme needs, they benefit everybody. And so there’s a term called a curb cut effect that came out of the fact that we started adding curb cuts to curbs on crosswalks and stuff for wheelchairs. Back when those first started, whatever it was 50-60 years ago. They found it, you know, benefited everybody… benefited, you know, people with trouble walking, people, you know, mothers with strollers, people dragging their luggage, delivery people. Like everybody started… you know, people on bikes… all these people would benefit from having these curb cuts that they’ve come standard everywhere. And just nobody gives it a second thought…
Greg: Yeah, exactly.
Jack: I’m gonna come on a unicycle one year!
Jon: That’d be awesome.
Greg: Nobody ever thinks of unicyclists. And it’s a similar thing with, like, captions. Another good example, people use a lot where – Yeah, captions are great for people who can’t hear but also, everybody uses captions all the time now, for you know, when you’re in a loud space, or somebody sleeping next to you or some people will just cognitively process things better by having the captions on screen. There’s so many different benefits that all these people benefit from even whether they have any impairment or disability or not,
Jon: Or voice command like, like Siri or Alexa. Yeah. That’s huge. Like I use that all the time. Mostly when I’m driving, because obviously I don’t want to have to sit there and try to scroll. But I will tell my phone to call a lot of people while I’m driving.
Greg: Yeah. But I especially like when you kind of took it to the next the next level beyond that, that I think is especially important for promoters and hopefully we’ll appeal to them, which is the idea that some of these ideas also benefit you from a, you know, sales and promotional perspective of, you know, instead of creating an environment that’s better for people to get around and spend money,
Greg: And enjoy it, enjoy the event or whatever it is that they need to do.
Jon: And as a retailer, I mean, that’s, that’s the thing too, like, they always you always hear like, say, like eye level, right, like things should be an eye level, eye level…
Greg: What is eye level..?
Jon: Eye level is actually, it’s closer to like the five foot mark, because it’s, it’s upper for kids. And it’s a slightly lower for, like your average male who’s like around 5′ 10″ to 6’. And if they’re standing back at it, that’s what they’re going to see. And the way advertising works is you read from top left to bottom right at like a slow slope, and then all of a sudden, it drops off hard. So your point that you want to see is actually like on a four foot rack, let’s say that seven feet tall, your actual sweet spot is about five feet up slightly to the right of like, if it were a human, you’d be looking at their heart, right? That’s the sweet spot. So if you look at any kind of poster, or magazine, or anything, a lot of the times that’s where the hit point is.
Jack: Pretty much the rule of thirds is a reference?
Jon: Yeah, kind of like, like this Green Lantern right, that you’re not actually looking at the title, you’re looking at this part because it’s not the top. And it’s here, it’s close enough to the, to the center, because you’re going to read like this. So you’re actually that’s why she’s over here because she’s the focus Lantern, not the Guardian. So that’s actually why it you read like that, that’s why we focus stuff like that. But the five foot mark is still high enough where people with disabilities in wheelchairs can still see it. And that’s it’s pretty much their eye level, right? Like four foot to five foot mark is where it is. And that’s why you see a lot of racks that aren’t over four feet, because they’ll just put stuff on the top shelf. And that’s the eye level for most people like that four foot to five foot spot.
So you’ve mentioned here in there, like some of the things you’ve you’re doing this year, different due to COVID. Can you talk a little bit about both how you know how this pandemic is affected y’all having to postpone last year and getting going this year? And then just what are some of the things you’re having to do this year to adjust for everything that’s going on?
Jon: Yeah, I mean, let me let me talk about the stores a little bit in that too.
Jon: Because that was a big thing. So you know, last March, I remember calling the guys from Bad Idea, the comic book publisher and being like, you guys forgot us on the first wave, blah, blah, blah. And they’re all like, I’m getting ready to walk into the Bloodshot premiere. And I’m like, Okay, cool. Call me tomorrow. And then that next morning, the world shut down. Right. And it’s like, that’s my last memory of pre-shutdown, oh, crap, you know, because at that point, we had heard rumors of National Guard coming in and full marshal lockdown…
Jon: So when it came to everything being shut down, we were very hopeful that it would only be the two weeks. Of course, everyone was hoping that but some people just didn’t understand that they should probably have just stayed inside for two weeks. So we had to adjust for a period of time, there were only four of us employed at the entire company. We laid 80 people off something like that.
Jon: And it was me running five stores out of our Ellwood City store. I had everybody’s subscriber boxes there. The one week of Diamond box, got new comics came in I would I processed it. And then I called everybody and said, I’m going to mail your stuff. If you want it. There’s nothing coming for two months. What do you like now’s the time to buy your stuff. And luckily, a lot of our guys were very cool about doing that. They would do that we started offering curbside for those who wanted to do it. And then when the restrictions came to where we could open it was it’s obviously masks are mandated and all of our stores or some kind of face shield. Like you can have the plastic face shield that masks are mandated. And, you know, we were… we’re still cleaning all the time. And we had to limit how many people could come in the store. We also had to cancel in store gaming. Currently Pokemon. You can’t play Pokemon in store at all.
Jon: Wizards of the Coast things You can’t do that at all either, like, at all. You just can’t like, like Magic? Nope. D&D? Nope. Yu-Gi-Oh! Pokemon? Nope, nothing. So I mean, the nice part about that is in a lot of the stories that helped to be able to socially distance a little better, because not only did we… were we making sure that the customer stays safe, but the staff stays safe. Because we’ve, we’ve only been able to hire back part of the company. And we’re doing minimal hours, like we’re doing like most stores are like 11 to 6, or 11 to 7, or 12 to 7, something like that 12 to 6, like they’re not, they’re not open like 11 hour days, like we used to be. But like I said, we were totally fine with people cancelling their subscriptions, too. Because there were guys that had full boxes that were 4 inches deep, and we were like, we can cancel it, if you just want to buy some of it. If you don’t want to buy any of it, we are totally understanding. No one knows where this is going to be. Let us know. But most people at least canceled and bought or just bought it all with the stimulus or, you know, bought it in chunks during that 2 month period. And there really aren’t anybody that’s backed up too hard. Now…
Greg: I can definitely relate to… I’m quite… even now with where things are, I’m still quite backed at my local shop. I need to get down there and I need some… I need a stimulus, a refund, I need something to get down there. [Laughs]
Jon: I mean, I’m personally backed up at home here, with all the stuff I bought, like I probably have, I bet it’s a good 8 or 10 inches tall stack of stuff that I’m backed up on. So that that’s kind of what we had to go with there. And then when it came to the convention we were, it sucked because we were on this huge momentum because we were like, we’re moving the show into the downtown convention center of Pittsburgh, and boom, it’s gonna be here, it’s gonna be huge, going to be awesome. We have this giant room, and we’re booking some cool guests to come in that had never been to Pittsburgh, or hadn’t been there in like, decades. And then all of a sudden it was world shutdown. Everything’s on pause. So we’re like, okay, now what? And we waited, and we kind of went, like, what are our options, you know, and eventually got to the point where it was, there is no way that we’re going to be able to have this in this calendar year. The Convention Center got turned into at one point, it was like an extra triage COVID center where people were being taken care of, at one point, after that had trimmed down to where the hospitals were now not overloaded. It became, I believe, it became like the courthouse for Allegheny County, because they could space people out…
And they were doing court hearings and stuff in there, because everybody could be so spaced out. So it was very interesting. And were using it for other things like that, that were more important than conventions.
Greg: Arguably yeah…
Jon: Well, where, where you’re not going to have 1000s of people try to jam in a room and be all over each other.
Jon: And then, you know, the other side of that is that talking to a lot of artists and vendors, they were not really keen on having to shake hands and get pictures of people and be very close with them. So we were like, Okay, well Act of God kicked in, contract gets voided. Let’s talk about this again, when the world gets back on track. So that’s, like we’re in. Like, I can’t confirm where we’re going to be in 2022 yet because nothing’s… we don’t have a contract anywhere yet. We’re, we’re currently shopping that and doing that kind of stuff. So eventually we’ll be able to announce that but um, so when. Fast forward to what, January or December, right when the first vaccines were were emergency use authorized,
Jon: Right. So December first vaccines are authorized… January, they start coming out. Then we had an election changeover. And the newer administration decided this is like we’re going to create the plan for rollout we’re going to do 100 million people in 100 days. They did 130 so far, and it’s just now around the 100 day like it’s not even 100 days. It’s 130 million in so a third of the nation has been vaccinated, which is beautiful. You know, and at that point we, like… Pennsylvania was nuts, because like restrictions were tightened, then loosened and tightened again, then loosened again. And now they’re … nowhere worse than they, they’re probably the loosest they’ve been yet. Because I think restaurants are at 50%. Everywhere else is 75%?
Jack: We’re at 25%, yeah.
Jon: Yeah. Yeah. entertainment venues are 25%. And outside venues, like outside events, like, it’s, it’s, it’s weird. But basically, if you’re doing an outside event in PA, as long as you have people that are wearing masks, and in at least attempting social distancing, it’s pretty much okay. No matter the size, right, a lot of states now are 100% open, but you still gotta wear a mask to do whatever you want, which is totally fine. I mean, whatever you got to do to, you know, if, if that’s what you got to do to have a business open, put the freakin mask on and help that dude out, man, go buy something from him. That’s the way I look at it. You know, it’s not like anybody’s asking me to, you know, sign over my house to come in their building.
Jon: So, uh, so then we decided, Okay, things are, interestingly open enough that maybe we could do something smaller. Let’s try it outside. Because ventilation is good. The world was looking like it’s, it’s moving in the right direction. And we said, okay, how can we do this? And who should we focus on because we knew that a lot of bigger names, we’re not going to do the handshakes and the photos and stuff right now. So we were like, let’s focus on local artists and vendors. And give the guys that… the first people we gave crack out were the guys that had signed up for our 2021 show that had got postponed. And a lot of them rolled over their payment to whenever we get back doing things, right. So those guys all got first crack at space. So we worked out a deal with the Waterfront. And we’re going to be in what they call the overflow lot. And we’re getting…
Jack: I was curious about that.
Jon: Yeah. So if you look at the map of the Waterfront, it’s between the old steak and shake and the I believe. It’s the First Commonwealth Bank. There’s like a weird extra parking lot space where you know that they’re just waiting for somebody to build a McDonald’s or something there… well, not a McDonald’s because that’s already there, like, so say you need like a Wendy’s, right? Dairy Queen, please. But so we’re gonna be in there, they’re getting a 6 20×40? No. Yeah, 20×40, I think it’s 20×40 tents. So we are, we can effectively put 8 8×8 spaces as a rectangle, like so 4 on each side, back to back. And that’s enough space that if you’re masked up, you’re still so like, if you’re an artist, you’re socially distanced to the dude beside you. If you’re a vendor, you may have two spaces, and you’re going to be walking in between there. But you’re still back to back with someone and the guys beside you aren’t going to be as tight. And then we offered people that because we ran out of that very quickly, we said, if you want to bring your own 10×10 tent, you can pay and table, you can just pay the same table fee. But we’ll let you park your car right beside it. So you can have extra space. I mean, you’re kidding. Effectively, you’re getting a much bigger space for the same price as you would if we were to provide the table and tent, but…
Jack: That’s what we’re doing.
Jon: Right. So you’re paying a little more but you’re getting a ton more space. Because that 10×10 you can fit three six foot tables in there easily and then still be backed up to your car and have a ton more room. And those will be kind of spaced out or around the thing. So that’s kind of what we we worked out with everybody. And I said, I said to Todd, I was like Look, man, I just want to get like… this is for these guys. Like, like we’re not gonna make a lot on it. We’re gonna make whenever people pay to get the spaces. And I’m like, I just want people to remember who we are. So when we go to that big show the next year, we can really, really make it stick. Let’s do free admission. And he was like, he’s like, Alright, but I want to do an early bird thing, because you know, there’s a couple guys that will do that. And I said, and you know that vendors are going to take forever to load in and not be loaded at the right time. And I said, Okay, that makes sense. I said, I said, I will submit to a two hour maximum per day on that. So from 10 to noon, like vendors can start setting up at 7am. I don’t really see a lot of them coming in seven, I see a lot of them shut up around eight, maybe nine. But from noon, or 10am to 12pm 12 noon, you can pay five bucks get a wristband, and go shop those vendors for two hours before anybody else. Gets to walk over in that space at noon. And that’s, that’s the part that’s, that’s the most rough is how am I going to try? Like, my thing is, how am I going to police around this empty line?
Greg: Put a fence up around it.
Jon: So what I am going to move around as I think, what I’m going to do is I have a bunch of cosplay groups that are showing up, like 3 Rivers Cosplay, my Star Trek, my Star TREK group I’m in. And the 501st are all going to be there and the Steel City Ghostbusters. And I’m probably just going to go, can you guys just do me a favor. And just not let anybody without a wristband walk in, if I don’t get enough volunteers to do it.
Greg: Ideally, you can get as many stormtroopers as you can and use the Disneyland approach,
Jon: Right, and just make a perimeter. It’d be like, being at celebration, right? It looked like it looked like Jack’s background right now. But that’s, that’s kind of the plan. And we really, like I said, we wanted to focus on like, vendors and artists that are local, that maybe, you know, haven’t been able to do anything. And this is something they need to pay their bills. You know, because like a lot of the bigger name artists guys, you know, I guarantee they’re, they’re good on their commission list that they can just work from home, and this isn’t going to be a big problem, or as much of a problem for them. Some maybe they are I mean, but if they’re hurting, you know, I don’t know. But I think most of the people that were that need this are the vendors and artists that that we we got and I’m still getting today, I got three more applications. And we’re still taking them. Eventually, I’m gonna have to figure out where the cutoff is.
Greg: As long as there’s more parking lot.
Jon: Right? Another cool thing that I did not announce to anybody, so you guys can have this. So last week, or two weeks ago, maybe I get an email. And it just… it says it’s from Disney+, and I’m like, okay, like, this is not my normal Disney+ subscription email. What is this? Because it said like convention something something and I opened it up. And they’re like, Hey, we heard good buzz about your show. We’d like to do some like we’d like to partner with you guys for something. And I was like, hell yeah. I was like, if this is a joke, I’m gonna be really mad. So that’s awesome. So I emailed them back we we emailed a little bit and once they they were like well is it inside? It’s out like what do you what do you do for your show? I explained it and it’s right beside our Waterfront store right, which is huge. So we will have they’re going to be sending us a Loki trailer that will be on loop in the store all show weekend.
Greg: Oh very cool.
Jon: I am, I’m so pumped to partner with him like that. And I was just like, Man, this is awesome. Like, like you know it’s like that. Like what what email do you want to see kick through your email when you’re promoting? You want to see… you want to see Disney, you want to see Marvel, you want to see DC, you wanna see Image. Those are like your your four bigs right there right, your big four and and that’s that’s one of the ones that I got to see or I guess like Lucasfilm would be your big round out the five, but it’s always…
Jack: I’d take Bad Batch ,b ut I’ll take it Loki totally
Jon: Bad Batch would be great. But I think Loki kicks beginning of June right? And that’s that’s why because the shows like the 22nd, 23rd of may so they want to help promote it. I don’t really think they really need to have promotion for it more than they already do. Because I know I… there are very few people that I know that aren’t watching WandaVision or Mandalorian or Falcon and Winter Soldier.
Greg: center how they’ve done so far the shows, I don’t think they need a lot of help, but it seems like a very good… Yeah, very good gesture.
Jon: The help they need is getting people to subscribe to the service. That’s what they need…
Greg: Oh, that’s really cool.
Jon: Yeah. We’re all excited about that one. So that’ll probably actually be announced on our social media… probably sometime next week.
Greg: Cool deal
Jack: I guess one last thing. Once you let us know, I guess when the show is and give a little promo.
Jon: Alright, 3 Rivers Comicon Lite 2021 will be May 22 and 23rd at the Waterfront in Homestead, PA on East Waterfront Street, East Waterfront Drive, I think is what it is. And it’s going to be in a parking lot. If you Google search New Dimension Comics Waterfront, it’s going to be in the parking lot in front of it. Well, a little bit further away. It’s like across the parking lot, and then a side parking lot. But if you parked in front of the store, you’ll be able to see it that weekend for sure. You can get all your information at 3riverscomicon.com. Or you can check us out @3RiversComicon on any of our social media as we have Twitter, we have Instagram, and we have the Facebook. And then you can also check out our podcast, which is New Dimension Comics Presents The Podcast on Spotify. And you can also watch us live every Thursday at 7 on YouTube.
Jack: We’ll make sure to put all that in our show notes.
Jack: Well, thank you so much for coming on our show and being a guest. Man. It’s been a wonderful conversation. And we just really appreciate it. Thank you for your time.
Jon: No problem, man, like anytime.
Greg: Alright, yeah, thanks a lot.
Jon: No problem. Thanks.
Jack: Well, thanks for joining us for this episode. If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, be sure to check out 3 Rivers Comicon.
Greg: Yeah, May 22, and 23rd.
Jack: Find the link containing all the information about the convention in our show notes. And as always, we want to hear your thoughts on this episode.
Greg: Yeah, feel free to reach out to us on social media. We’re Resilience Squadron on Facebook and Instagram and @ResilienceSquad on Twitter. And we’d really appreciate it if you leave us a rating and review on iTunes or your own podcast network of choice. That’ll always really help us out. We’re part of the Skywalking Network, where you can also find other great shows like Talking Apes. Classic Marvel Star Wars comics, the Max EFX podcast, Neverland Clubhouse, and the flagship show Skywalking Through Neverland.
You know, we always give a shout out to Mark Hamill at the end of our episodes in hopes he’ll notice and come on the show. We decided he’s just too big a star to hope to get him on a little podcast like ours. So we’re gonna focus on a Star Wars celebrity who’s much more realistic to get.
So George Lucas – we’ve left you some voicemails, so please return our calls so we can have you on the show!