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Jaycees’ show popular as event marks 36th year

The 36th annual Bemidji Jaycees Home, Sport and Travel Show, set for next weekend, is expected to again fill the Sanford Center. File Photo

BEMIDJI – When the Home, Sport and Travel Show doubled its vendor participation from its first to second year, the Bemidji Jaycees were thrilled.

“We were like, (wow), this is so good; we got to 50-some vendors,” recalled Jerry Hemstad, a former Jaycees who member who helped plan earlier events.

Now, the Home, Sport and Travel Show boasts more than 120 vendors, filling the Sanford Center from its arena to conference center.

“It was exciting to see it grow over the years, to see it now compared to what it was,” said Richard Jaranson, who co-chaired some of the show’s early years.

The annual show, now in its 36th year, will be this weekend: 3-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for kids aged 6-15, and free for those under 5. This year, there also is a $10 weekend pass.

Eva Fisher, a first-year co-chairwoman, said the event this year will offer door prizes and features an additional new boat vender, J & K Marine from Walker. There also are a number of new independent businesses.

“There are quite a few new vendors,” she said.

The first show was held in 1977 as the Bemidji Jaycees sought an additional fundraiser.

“We were looking for a project that would be a fundraiser and would promote Bemidji, bring people to Bemidji, and highlight local businesses,” Hemstad said.

Always a three-day event, the event was held at the John Glas Fieldhouse until it relocated to the Sanford Center three years ago.

“It was a lot of work, but it was exciting,” Jaranson recalled, remembering how in the Jaycees offered businesses discounts to simply take part. “That first year, it was a building year. The price of what we got (how much we fundraised) wasn’t quite as important as us needing to the fill the space.”

He said the event’s first chairman was Jerry Swenson. Jaranson and Al Swedmark later co-chaired the event for several years.

In the beginning, the Home, Sport and Travel Show was free to attend. Jaranson said it was important to show vendors the value of the show, to draw as much of a crowd as possible.

“I knew it was going to be a decent event,” he said. “But it’s always rough the first few years, trying to get vendors to believe in it and getting the people to come out there.”

He said the Jaycees had to convince Cochran Marine in Walker to come in, to bring in a very large boat to draw people’s interest.

“It was a huge boat, for back then,” Jaranson said. “It was a 40-foot, fancy boat. They brought it in and set up in the middle (of the Glas) just to bring attention to the show.”

Eventually, the Jaycees began charging admission, first a quarter a person and then $1.

As it became more established, Jaranson said the show became a little less work. The hardest part became where to put all the interested vendors.

“We just literally didn’t have enough space for people because there was no place to go,” he said. “Everybody and their brother now wanted to come in.”

Which is why the event moved in 2011 to the new Sanford Center.

The relocation allowed the Jaycees to incorporate back into the show the boats and RVs that just didn’t have enough space at the Glas.

Jaranson recalled how the show, originally, was heavily sports-emphatic, with boats, trailers, RVs, motors, campers and tents.

“We had to deal with security,” he said. “We had no way to totally lock the place up … and kids would get in there … we had people, Jaycees, staying there all night long.”

He also recalled one of the harder years, when, due to a scheduling snafu with Bemidji State University, the Jaycees had a choice: Either hold the annual event on Easter weekend or cancel it altogether.

“We caught a lot of flak for that,” he said. But after talking with local ministers and sending letters to vendors explaining the situation, the show went on as scheduled. “That was an interesting political (experience) for me, my first experience in public relations. It was very eye-opening.”

Last year’s show brought some debate as well, as longtime food vender Stittsworth Meats decided to take part in the show as a non-food vendor, distributing brochures and coupons. That decision came after the Sanford Center required food vendors who sell products that compete with its own concession stands to pay a sales commission.

But such controversies are rare. Fisher said the show, an indication of spring’s arrival, remains a popular draw for the public.

“It’s just the interaction, with so many different people in the community, so many different people, even people form out of town,” she said. “It’s just really neat to make those connections and learn more about the businesses that we have in town.”