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PAB Expo experience

Despite low public turnout, exhibitors say it was a success

Former Port aux Basques Mayor John Spencer served as Emcee for all three days of the Lifestyle Expo. – © Jaymie White / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — The Lifestyle Expo hosted by the Port aux Basques and Area Chamber of Commerce took place from May 5-7, and saw exhibitors from industry, business, recreation, tourism, and non-profits come out to share the different aspects of what it means to live, work, and play on the Southwest coast of the province. The Lifestyle Expo was the first of its kind, a marked departure from the Gateway Business Expos where people would come in, browse, shop, then leave. This year, no matter what day people attended, they could browse the 31 exhibits that were set up throughout the Bruce II, and listen to the various presentations that were given throughout the day from non-profit groups, sports enthusiasts, and industry leaders such as Sokoman Minerals, Matador Mining, College of the North Atlantic, Tourism Southwest, The Gateway Curling Club, Western Health, and the Public Legal Information Association of NL. Each day featured one keynote speaker. Attendees on Friday, May 5 heard Eddie Sheerr speak about his experiences living and working in Newfoundland and Labrador as someone who is originally from the United States. He paused for photo opportunities and spoke at length with public and exhibitors. On Saturday, Keith Burak from Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) spoke on the progress the wind energy company has been making with its development plans on the Southwest Coast. From day one, FFI has been vocal about the importance of community involvement in their plans for wind development, and this Expo was another way for them to connect and speak with individuals living in the areas where they hope to one day develop. On Sunday, Port aux Basques’ own Linda Massie of Team NL also had the chance to speak. This was an exciting moment for anyone in the local sports community, hearing a member of their own hockey family who has accomplished so much, and the most glaring fact about that presentation was that by the time Massie took the stage, many exhibitors had already left, meaning that her heartwarming presentation was only viewed by a select few who stayed until the end. The reason the lack of exhibitors on day three was less than the previous two days was because, unfortunately, public attendance at the Expo was underwhelming. In total, it is estimated that less than 300 people attended. Even on days two and three, when the $7.50 cover charge to get in was removed and admission was made free, the majority of who got to listen to compelling updates and information from presenters, witness the beautiful displays that were painstakingly put together, were the exhibitors themselves. Susannah Rose Quilt Patch had beautiful quilts on display that were lovingly put together. People of the Dawn Indigenous Friendship Centre showcased intricate handmade dreamcatchers and jewelry, and offered free smudge kits to many in attendance. The Town of Stephenville even had a booth to discuss some of the exciting developments happening in their community that could have lasting impacts on the province as a whole. Artist Jeff Musseau had a booth near the entrance that showcased his brilliant work. Canadian Tire had a massive and colourful display of numerous products, some of which was on sale especially for the Expo. The RCMP even had a vehicle at their booth that people could see up close, while on Saturday RCMP dog Thor also made a visit. There were daily door prizes, a 50-50 draw, numerous raffle prizes, tickets sold on a chest freezer, and exhibitors had their own prize draws as well. If you stopped by the Wreckhouse Press booth you could enter your name and number for a chance to win a ‘reading bundle’ which included numerous books written and published by Wreckhouse Press, a handmade blanket and pair of slippers, and a one-year subscription to the online edition of Wreckhouse Weekly. If you stopped by the Canadian Tire booth, you could enter for your chance to win a patio set that came with a table, four chairs, and an umbrella, perfect for warmer days and eating outside. Due to the low public turnout, the majority of names that were drawn for prizes belonged to exhibitors. The lack of town representatives was noticed, with numerous exhibitors commenting that town clerk and Chamber secretary Nadine Osmond the only one to make an appearance. Mayor Brian Button also made an appearance, despite being sick and under the weather, on Friday evening to introduce Eddie Sheerr. Regardless of the lack of foot traffic, a lot of the exhibitors remained in good spirits, like Mandy Ryan Francis of Marine Excursions. “We are a family operation. I’m the general manager, my husband George is our lead vessel operator, and our daughter Georgia helps out on some tours. She was thrilled to answer questions from potential guests of our over the Expo weekend,” said Ryan Francis. “My goal in occupying a booth was to remind local people that we are here, and to answer any questions they may have. I believe it’s important for local people to know these things. Visitors often inquire with local people in restaurants and other businesses and even outside on sidewalks about what there is to do in the area.” Marine Excursions was able to network with a lot of other exhibitors during the three day expo. “My goal was met in that several people we spoke to didn’t know for certain if the Fiona destruction and aftermath would force the cancellation of any of our tours. They know now that while certain portions of our Resettlements Grand Tour may not look the same as it did last summer it is still going ahead,” explained Ryan Francis. “Attending the expo was an investment, no different than any other type of advertising. We had great opportunity to network with other booth occupants throughout the weekend, and I believe some people who came to our booth will call and book once their summer plans firm up, so we will see in a couple months if it was worth it from a business perspective. We are also members of the Chamber and want to support its activities and events when we can.” Even though there were definite positives for attending, some aspects of the event admittedly caused some disappointment. “I think it’s safe to assume that all vendors and members of organizations who put time and money into attending the expo were disappointed in turnout from the general public because there was so much on offer. The event was well organized, all booths were full and were very interesting and wide-ranging, from mental health services to embroidery services, massage, mining, and everything in between,” said Ryan Francis. “The guest speakers were phenomenal. They all had valuable information to share. I don’t know why more people didn’t come out to have a look at what was available. Some people believe it was because there weren’t any big-ticket vendors this year like camper dealers or car dealers. Others thought the ticket price was high. Some also said there were many other things happening the same weekend, so maybe the low turnout was due to a combination of factors.” On Friday, because of work and school schedules, it could be expected that the numbers would be lower, but once the weekend hit and the numbers didn’t increase, it was a sad realization for organizers and exhibitors. “By mid-day on Saturday I genuinely felt sad for the organizers who put an incredible amount of time and effort into planning the event,” said Ryan Francis. “On a completely different note, our daughter Georgia worked the booth with me all weekend and I was pleasantly surprised to see her enthusiasm about having people visit our booth, and it was interesting to hear her describe and sell our tours. I saw the potential in her as a future entrepreneur and that made me happy.” The biggest take away for exhibitors seemed to be the newly forged business connections and networking opportunities. At the business gala dinner on Saturday evening, one exhibitor went so far as to declare that thanks to the Lifestyle Expo, the region’s business community now feels more like a family.

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