Mandarin MiniCon, an event 10 years in the making

After weeks of wondering about rain, I couldn’t have asked for better weather on Saturday, March 28th. It was clear and sunny, but uncharacteristically cool for late March in Florida. A beautiful perfect day to put on what was going to be my biggest, most ambitious event ever.

Candy Keane at Mandarin MiniCon

Me, 9 months pregnant and happily surveying the scene at Mandarin MiniCon

Three Muses started as a website in 2005, but I’ve been in Mandarin Square since my retail store opened in early 2009. It’s an odd little spot, right on a major road, yet tucked back and pretty much hidden. The #1 phone call at the shop is from lost people asking for directions. It looks more like an office complex and has zero walk-in traffic. Nobody just casually wanders in. The good thing is that privacy also means we don’t have a lot of rules. No required hours to be open or a supervisor to answer to. The bad thing is the part where I mentioned we have zero walk-in traffic and everyone gets lost.

I’ve been wanting to do a large event to get people out to the plaza for a long time. I’ve done much smaller store events that always went well, but I’d never taken advantage of the freedom we have to use the entire plaza area. The thought of getting so many people involved and then hoping people would actually show up was very intimidating. I’ve seen too many empty events with grumbling vendors. Jacksonville can be a tough crowd sometimes.

Then Mythical Mountain moved in a few doors down and mentioned doing an event together for Free Comic Book Day. I’d have loved to do that, but I’m having a baby around that time so it wasn’t going to be possible. Not wanting to lose out on a good opportunity to kick off my maternity leave with a bang, I suggested we do an event earlier. Our own little “mini-con” with other vendors, conventions and local businesses. For some reason having a partner store in this, especially a comic book store, was the push I needed to make it happen. The fact that I would be nearly 38 weeks pregnant at the time and was the only one working at the shop was something I’d just deal with when the time came.

I contacted the building manager and the response was basically “do whatever you want, just clean up afterwards.” So I started sending Facebook messages to everyone I could think of to see if there was interest. One thing I knew was that I wanted to keep it free. We didn’t have to pay for use of the plaza and any money put in would pay off with visitors to the store that day and for long after. I was happy to discover Mythical Mountain had the same mindset.

In the beginning, I really thought I’d be begging people to be involved. But by the time word got out and things started rolling, I suddenly had a waiting list of vendors. That’s when I started to get excited about the interest being shown and knew we were on to something. I also started getting worried about logistical issues like where would they park, what if they got thirsty and hungry and where would they go to the bathroom? Our plaza area was open and free, but it was also free of the usual amenities you get when having an event in an actual building.

So next came the addition of food trucks and porta-potty rentals. With the event rapidly growing in size, I tried to map everything out and measure out spaces to see how many vendors we could fit. I can tell you I do not have a future in map making. I drew a lot of scribbling with some numbers and then decided I had the gist of the layout and would give everybody a spot when they showed up on Saturday. I’m still pretty surprised that actually worked.

I got in early that Saturday and vendors started showing up early right behind me. By our official start time at 11AM, everyone was set up and ready and the store seemed a little slow and manageable. I thought, not so bad, I can handle this. By just a couple hours in, we were slammed with a waiting line to check-out.

I’m very lucky to have friends that stepped in to help! I couldn’t have run the shop that day with Bridget and Meisha helping customers, Ted showing up early to carry the big sign down and help with set-up, Sean keeping an overall eye on things and getting people off the roof at one point and Matt emptying the large trash cans. I know there were also other people helping out and I’m thankful to you all. And all those that helped with clean-up were amazing. The plaza was left spotless.

I keep using the word “amazing” to describe the day because it really was. Things rarely go off so well and so easily. Yes a lot of work went into it to make it happen but you never really know how things are going to come together. The feedback afterwards was enough to give me the warm fuzzies for a week. In fact, I still have them. I feel like everything and everyone I have dedicated my time to, been involved with and supported showed up to return the favor. And on top of that was a whole new group of people I got to meet for the first time.

Click here to check out our photos on the Three Muses Facebook page

I need to do a few more shout-outs besides the aforementioned friends:

* Mythical Mountain- thank you for being my partner in this venture and for being as blindly optimistic as I was about everything! I look forward to doing it again.

* Max Micheals / Movement Magazine- thank you for doing the graphics for the event page, ads and fliers. And for bringing DJ ENS and the music / microphone / sound system. The event would not have been the same without the music. DJ ENS did a great job as both DJ and MC.

* The local conventions – thanks to AmeliaCon, CollectiveCon, GAAM and WasabiCon for being part of the event! Hope you all have the best year yet for your own events. Looking forward to attending them all.

* The food trucks – thanks to Delish Kabobs for coming out and serving some truly delicious food and I love the little food court area set-up! And Mister Softee ice cream was the perfect sweet treat for the day.

* Our costume contest supporters – Big thanks to all those that donated prizes and really made it a contest worth entering: AmeliaCon, GAAM, Actualized Arts, Bento Studios, Fantasi Kandy, Crafts by Helen Duffy, Red Velvet Photography, Showstoppers Variety Show, Art by Sabina

* Red Velvet Photography – thanks for coming out and covering the event! The photos area great and really show all the amazing costumes and crowd. Check out their photos here:  http://redvelvetphotography.com/p827394140#h407cb3c7

* The Jedi Academy of North Florida – thank you for entertaining the crowd with your performances!

* The Jacksonville geek/nerd/comics/cosplay community – it was wonderful to see so many of you come out and enjoy the day and dress up!

* All our vendors and participants:
AmeliaCon
Shoebeedoo
The Art Of Joseph Daugherty
Adorable Foxie
Scrub Oak Soaps
Iron Man – Jax
Jenifer Ann
WasabiCon
Movement Magazine
Collective Con
Jedi Academy of North Florida
Red Velvet Photography
GAAM
The Coffee Bard Coffeehouse
Art by Bento Studios
Actualized Arts
Umbrella Corporation Jacksonville (Home of the 219th Brain Surgeons)
Art by edbot5000
North Florida Chapter of the Heroes Alliance
Gotham City FX
Art and Caricatures by Art by Sabina
The Retro Raver
Comic Crafts by Helen Duffy Williams
Art by Mario Scott
Kawaii Designs
Silliness of Sewing
Orchid Ink Studios
I Am Sheridon
Nerdities
Color Television
Fantasi Candi

* I hope I managed to list everybody but if not, I apologize! I truly appreciate everyone involved.

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