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"How was the show?" 

Invariably, after any show, this is the question I receive countless times. My answer is always the same, though not really satisfying the inquisitor's curiosity: "It was a good show." 

But having just returned from the Show of Shows in Louisville, Kentucky, I think people are asking more than, "Was there neat stuff there?" or "Were people buying and selling a lot?" This year, I really think those who have been asking me, "How was the show?", are actually checking the hobby's barometer after a such a long period of laying dormant as the nation dealt with the Coronavirus. 

Collectors cautiously return to the show aisles

Dealer at SOS 2021 wearing a bandana as face mask.

Okay, a few were obviously more cautious than others, but I did not witness ANY "mask-shaming" or questioning of personal choices at that show. 

I admit, after having spent 18 months in the "guest bedroom" of our home instead of driving to my office, I was just a little nervous of making my "public debut" at the Show of Shows this past July 21-24. Heck, I hadn't even been in a public restaurant since  February of 2020!

So, before the show, I envisioned a lot of scenarios: "I will wear my mask every moment," I promised my partner.  I tried (unsuccessfully) to build plexiglass screens to sit behind. I packed masks, hand sanitizer, and even a fan to "blow the Covid" out of my table area. 

And then, I arrived at the Expo Center in Louisville.  I cautiously approached the front lobby to pick up my packets.  No one was wearing a mask.  No social distancing. The hairs started to stand on the back of my neck.  This was a heck of a reentry into society!

I wandered about and observed my fellow collectors and dealers. Honestly, there were a few wearing masks, but they were the minority, by far.  And yet, everyone was comfortable. Folks sat or stood a bit farther apart than years past, but I have to say, everyone was respectful of individual space and choices. I was really encouraged!

Set up at the Show of Shows

View of the North Hall of the Expo Center

For 2021, the Show of Shows was held in the Expo Center's NORTH Hall. It will return to its usual location in the South Wing in 2022.

Because the Show of Shows had been rescheduled from February 2021 to July 2021, there were unexpected changes. First, the show was held in a different hall within the Expo Center. That took some real work on the part of the Ohio Valley Military Society (OVMS) to reconfigure the whole layout — especially when the staff learned the actual measurement of the hall was 14 feet shorter than the blueprints they had been provided!

This year, the OVMS did away with the volunteer table setting crews (fine with me!). This was met with mixed reaction, but in the end, it worked out just fine (and I wasn't worn out before even unloading my truck!).

The OVMS provided drive-in times between 5PM and 8PM on Wednesday to allow dealers to drop their material. There was no drive-in opportunity after that. 

By 6:30PM, the show floor was buzzing with activity. Those who had table helpers were off buying and selling. The rest of us, just worked on setting up our tables. Again, not a mask in sight, but the airflow was good and folks were aware.

And then it all happened

Muscle memory is an important part of our being. As collectors and dealers, it kicked in on Thursday morning. People had been home, not interacting with other like-minded collectors for nearly a year and half.  While the Show of Shows is a pilgrimage for many, it really took on new relevance this year. As much time was spent renewing friendships and relationships as was spent buying and selling.  There really was a sense of reunion on Thursday morning. 

The feeling only intensified when non-vending OVMS members entered the hall. The mood heightened as collectors and vendors reacquainted. Money changed hands rapidly, as I watched people scurry by with helmets, swords, Civil War firearms, tunics, and riker mounts full of medals or insignia. My concerns — over both the health of myself and of the hobby — abated. We were back, and all is going to be fine. 

So was it a "good show?"

Over the next two days (Friday and Saturday until 3PM), the show continued. I will say, the public attendance was not near what it has been for past SoS, but a lot was different this year: The show was held in July in the middle of vacation season. More noticeable, though, was the lack of non-US shoppers and vendors. Remember, there are still travel bans in place, and that impacted the Show. 

From my perspective, subscription sales were on par with past shows. Expenses, however, were way up: Rental car prices are nearly 150% higher than they were last year.  Hotel costs were up as was gasoline. This will affect many dealers and shoppers when they evaluate the cost of the show. 

Not a member of the Ohio Valley Military Society?  Click HERE for info.

So was it good? Darn right it was!  My feet ached, my voice was hoarse from too much talking, and I saw and handled some amazing relics. Most importantly though, I got over my trepidation about "reentering society," and found that reconnecting with friends and other collectors was reinvigorating — for both my mental state of being and my drive to collect. 

And the best thing? I only have to wait 1/2 a year for the NEXT Show of Shows: February 23-26, 2022!

Preserve the Memories,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine  

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