The Gem Show Rocks Downtown for the 59th Time

February 5, 2013

By Teya Vitu

Every year, some city gets the Super Bowl. Every year, Tucson gets the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase.

The Gem Show, as the 43 individual shows all around town are collectively known, is Tucson’s annual Super Bowl in its 59th year (Gem Show LIX in Super Bowl numerology) – and our Super Bowl stretches for 18 days through Feb. 17.

Photo by Joe Budd

Photo by Joe Budd

This is your chance for real early Christmas shopping. Gems, minerals and fossils may be the name, but what if gems, minerals and fossils don’t rock you socks?

Just about anything under the sun can be found at a gem show – especially something for someone who has everything.

Beads have become huge in the past decade, so much so the Gem Show has several bead shows.

Gem shows offer rugs, textiles, home furnishings, wearable art, book signings, workshops, clocks made out of fossilized wood, world globes, musical instruments, wine glasses, chalices, African wood work, etc. etc. etc.

Some call it the world’s largest treasure hunt. Some gem shows are open to the public, some open only for wholesale. Make sure you check first.

The greatest concentration of gem shows are close to Downtown, easily linked with three different free shuttle services. Seventeen of the 43 gem shows are in the Downtown area, close to Interstate 10 from Speedway to 22nd Street.

These are clustered near Congress Street and the freeway frontage road and the TCC; in and around the Hotel Tucson City Center at St. Mary’s Road and Granada Avenue; and near 22nd Street and the freeway frontage road.

What that means is you can park once and easily hit three or more shows with one shuttle stop. You don’t need to get on a shuttle at all for the three shows on the frontage road just south of Congress Street.

Just park at the Gem Show’s new parking option this year, the West Congress Parking Hub. This 1,000-space dirt lot is located between the new Sentinel Plaza senior housing apartments and Mercado San Agustin. Look for Linda Avenue just past the Menlo Park marker in the middle of West Congress Street and turn south.

From there, it’s an easy walk across the new Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge to the nearest three shows.

This parking lot also has one of three Concierge Tents offered by the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau. The concierges will help guide you through the maze of the Gem Show. Two other Concierge Tents are at the Tucson Convention Center and Veinte de Agosto Park (the park at Broadway, Congress and Church with the Pancho Villa statue).

The Hub is a stop on the city’s free GemRide shuttle. The shuttle visits 25 shows along the frontage road, Granada and Main avenues, the TCC, the Drachman/Oracle area with stops at the Pennington Street Garage, the Depot Plaza Garage and the West Congress Parking Hub. You can see the GemRide route here.

The GemRide Shuttle.

The GemRide Shuttle.

There is also a free Green Line shuttle that goes back-and-forth from the West Congress Parking Hub to the TCC. The Green Line is running two compressed natural gas vans. It is a collaboration among the Pima Association of Governments, Southwest Gas, Clean Cities and Clean Energy City.

Several gem shows have collaborated to provide a color-coded free shuttle service with 12 routes.

The visitors bureau has compressive gem show information here. There is a 24-hour gem show hotline at (520) 622-GEMS that is designed to provide answers to any question a visitor or vendor may have.

All that said, What exactly is a gem show?

Gem shows come in all sorts of flavors. Many are based at hotel or motels, but don’t even think hotel equals conference/banquet room. Sure, conference rooms are all filled with dealers, but many more dealers are in tents on the hotel grounds and plenty deal right out of their rooms.

Other gem shows are inside huge tents and some are outdoors à la the 4th Avenue Street Fair. Up in the Oracle/Drachman area, gem shows have a warehouse ambiance.

And, What is the Gem Show?

Two answers.

The generic answer is all 43 individual shows are the Gem Show.

Technically, the answer is the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show at the Tucson Convention Center for the final four days, Feb. 14-17. Back in the 1955, when the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society put on the first Gem Show, it was the only gem show.

The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show remained the only show for several years. Then other gem dealers put on wildcat shows around town and soon enough there were dozens of different gem shows simultaneously in the January-February part of the year.

Since the beginning, the event has been called the Gem Show whether there was one show or 48.

The Gem Show has no unified management structure. The Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau heavily promotes and publicizes the event but there is scant information about the overall Gem Show or even specific gem shows.

Gem dealer John H. Betts offers his own guide for first-time Gem Show visitors.

One thing nobody argues about is the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase is the largest event of its kind in the world. Dealers make upwards of a quarter to a half – if not more – than half their annual revenue these two weeks in Tucson.

How many people attend gem shows? How many people travel to Tucson to shop or sell at gem shows? What’s the economic impact of the Gem Shows?

No reliable data exists.

The estimates are 60,000 people visit Tucson for the Gem Show.

A 2007 economic impact calculated the Gem Show’s economic impact at $95 million. A prior economic impact report from the late 1990s had the number at $76.4 million and the MTCVB repeated that number until 2007.

The $95 million figure had a short shelf life. Even without a formal study, city and tourism officials ratcheted that number down to $75 million after the economic crisis hit in 2008, and MTCVB CEO Brent DeRaad now announces the economic impact at “approximately $65 million.”

DeRaad said the Gem Show accounts for 150,000 hotel room nights.

A complete list of Gem Shows in and near Downtown is available here.