As fallout from Reed Exhibition's decision to ban anything related to the modern sporting rifle from their Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show continues, it appears the show will be lacking many of the brand names and outdoor faces the more than 200,000 annual visitors normally expect.
Large and small, companies have been withdrawing at an increasingly faster pace.
Notifications have become equally abrupt.
Initially, we received formal notices explaining that "(Company) has carefully considered the implications, and decided it will not participate in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show".
Now, notices are considerably more pointed, as in "Weatherby, Inc. will not attend the Eastern Show."
That's the "Dragnet" school of writing. No frills. No gimmicks. Just the facts.
It would seem a belief in the right to keep and bear arms isn't something that can be interpreted to include one gun at the exclusion of another, despite what anti-gun groups would have you believe.
Reed Exhibitions just might have drawn - unintentionally- a figurative line in the sand. They're large enough that while the Eastern Show fiasco might have a price, it will be more embarrassing than fiscally punishing.
But here's a critical truth: for some of the companies, the decison to pull out of this show comes at a terrific cost.
For cottage businesses, from handmade duck calls to custom knives, withdrawing from this 9-day extravaganza is deliberately putting your business in financial peril.
We applaud big groups like the NRA, NWTF, RMEF and Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Crimson Trace, Trijicon and others for their stands. But we shouldn't overlook- nor fail to support- those little companies putting their survival on the line.
Some of those little companies that have announced they're pulling out of this show scrimp, save and prepare products all year long in preparation for Harrisburg.
They work small gun and knife shows the rest of the year, knowing the nine-day Eastern Show with 200,000 attendees is more than their big show, it's their lifeblood.
Yesterday, I received this email from Virginia Blade Knives:
"My company is Virginia Blade Knives and effective as of this morning we cancelled our booth and have joined the ranks of my brothers and sisters who have pulled out of the eastern outdoors show in Harrisburg P.A. ! It a tough call all and we may be facing bankruptcy but its a just call to make. Please add us to your list asap and thank you for all you do to get the word out."
It was a sobering realization, especially if you own or manage a small business. If you do, you understand what Duke Dudley of Virginia Blade Knives (www.vablade.com
) is talking about. Not attending a major selling event isn't a decision to be made lightly.
"I've talked with a lot of friends over the last four days," Duke Dudley told me, "and the wife and I have struggled over it. We've lost a lot of sleep."
"For years and years this show has been our bread-and-butter," he said in his soft Virginia accent, "not going means we'll be hurting - in a big way."
But Dudley says this decision isn't really about business. "It's a matter of right versus wrong," he explained, "our founding fathers paid in blood for the right we're defending."
It's the same conviction being shown by others, like seminar speaker Tom Richardson.
He emailed yesterday, asking that we let people know he wouldn't be doing his seminar "The Deadly Art Of Calling Deer and Becoming Invisible In the Woods" this year because of Reed Exhibitions' "recent announcement pertaining to legal modern firearms."
For these men, it's not a symbolic show of solidarity, it's a matter of conscience.
There are hundreds of "small" trade show booths at big shows. Honestly, we sometimes wander past without noticing them.
But they aren't small to the people working them. For them, that 100 square feet of display space may contain their products, their workforce, their working capital, and, most importantly, their dream.
In nearly 40 years of walking trade show aisles, I've seen thousands of those little booths, many of them only once. Not everyone has a product the world really does want.
But I've seen some grow out of their small spaces clustered in the less-than-prime locations along blind sides and in back rows. A few have gone on to become "anchor booths". Today, other dreamers collect around them in their 100 square feet of hope.
In all those years of covering business, this is the only time I've seen people willingly put themselves in financial peril by staying away from a proven sales opportunity.
At this point, there are still hundreds of exhibitors who haven't decided what they're going to do, or plan to be there if and when the show opens on February 2.
Does that bother Duke Dudley? He says not. "It's a personal decision," he said, "I'm not going to pile on someone for going, or staying at home."
Some personal decisions are made easily. Others have a cost attached.
Every decision of conscience comes at a price. We shouldn't lose sight of that as we watch this story unfold.
If we can help, we should. And we're open to your suggestions as to how.
We'll keep you posted.