By Phil Jacobs
After months of planning, countless hours on the phone, and goodness knows how many meetings, Susan Jones was able to sit back…but most probably that was the last thing she was doing.
Jones, the executive director of Ocean City’s Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, was walking around one of the Convention Center ballrooms still checking everyone’s pulse, and still being asked to put a few “small fires” as she put it.
This was the event’s 40th year, and her 19th in charge. There were more than 270 hospitality industry companies sponsoring booths. Goodness knows by Monday morning, the day’s second event, she should have had her roller blades on.
At some of those booths, you could get a tasting of craft beer, check out the latest in digital menu boards and even learn what the latest in deck or beach umbrellas might be. There were insurance and financial planning execs on hand, food tastings and even a Ravens Roost (Baltimore Ravens fan club) chapter selling a raffle for academic scholarships.
All of this started when Paul Wall of Phillips Seafood Restaurants looked into bringing an expo such as this to Ocean City. There was an existing one held in Baltimore.
Forty years ago, there were about 26 booths. Sunday and Monday’s 270 booths represented over 400 exhibition stations.
For Jones, who probably ran the equivalent of two marathons while supervising the event, it was gratifying to see it all come together.
“It’s always exciting to watch it all unfold,” she said. “I felt really, really good. Many of the vendors said they had a great show, and it is those exhibitors we want to please.”
Well over 5,000 visitors came to the Convention Center last Sunday and Monday to check out what was new interesting.
Jones will start planning next year’s Spring Trade Expo during the upcoming summer. Yes, it takes that long to put together the event, because of the logistics and the increasing numbers of companies that want to exhibit.
“We’ll lay out the floor plan, and we won’t send contracts out until early in the fall.”
Over the years, Jones said she has seen industries such as wine and spirits grow in number and in space. This year, she noted that craft microbreweries were on the increase. And she laughs when she remembers that it was cellphone and software companies that were trending at the EXPO in the earlier years.
One of those microbreweries with a booth was OC Brewing Company. Its retail manager and marketing and promotions director Angel Luckel said that the Expo gives the company exposure as one of several regional microbreweries.
Another of the many micro brew owners aid that the EXPO gives him a chance to really see what “everyone else is dong. It’s a great networking opportunity.”
Michael Glavich, owner of Fin City Brewing Company, which is located inside Hooper’s Crab House in West Ocean City, said that the EXPO was an opportunity for more people to “experience your product.” He added that it was also advantageous to meet other entrepreneurs in his line of work and from other businesses that might support his.
At a completely different part of the Convention Center, Jo Ann Elder and Marlyn Pietruszka were sitting in front of their Ravens Roost chapter banner.
“We’ve raised scholarship funds,” said Elder “for students at schools such as Steven Decatur High School and Worcester Prep.”
Then suddenly two people in Pittsburgh Steeler shirts walked by the booth.
Elder asked them to stop by.
They kept walking.
And so did Susan Jones. Only this time, she was racing off to answer another vendor’s question.
Even at the last few hours of the convention, Jones had enough energy to out run us all. It’s no wonder that next year will be her 20th EXPO. And we’re all the more fortunate for her work and drive.