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Return business vendors fill slots for show; Stittsworth Meats, Jaycees prepare for opening of Home, Sport & Travel Show

The 2011 Bemidji Jaycees Sport, Home and Travel Show booths in the Sanford Center arena illustrate just some of the vendors in 2011 show, in the Sanford Center for the first time. The Sanford Center will again be the location for the event March 30 - April 1, 2012. FILE PHOTO | BEMIDJI PIONEER

Stittsworth Meats will have 110 T-shirts for sale during this coming weekend's Bemidji Jaycees Home, Sport & Travel Show.

They likely won't last long.

Stittsworth Meats, which would have marked its 20th year selling brats in the Home, Sport & Travel Show, opted out as a food vendor this year as it became entangled in a policy enacted by the show's venue, the Sanford Center, which said it would not allow such vendors to take part because it sold products that compete with its own concession stands.

As the public reacted strongly against that position, a compromise was offered through which Stittsworth and similar vendors could take part by agreeing to pay 20 percent of their gross sales to the Sanford Center. The percentage then would increase 3 percent for each of five years until it reached 35 percent.

That would have resulted in a charge of $10 for a brat and a pop, Mychal Stittsworth told the Pioneer on Friday.

So the business came up with another plan: It will take part as a non-food vender and offer for sale $10 T-shirts and $10 coupon books, with 30 coupons.

Both items come with the opportunity for a free brat and pop.

But without selling the food on site, potential customers would have to frequent one of the two Stittsworth locations in town.

"We'll see," said Mychal, when asked how he thought the marketing would go over. "I really don't know. We've always sold brats there before."

The Home, Sport & Travel Show will mark its 35th year, its second in the Sanford Center.

"It's been a very trying and stressful year," said Char Blashill, the chairwoman of show.

In addition to the food vendor quandary, Blashill said the Sanford Center also required an additional general liability bond which resulted in additional waivers from vendors and more paperwork.

Blashill said this will be her last year as event chairwoman. She has one more year of participation in the Jaycees until she becomes an alumna. Blashill, who has co-chaired or chaired the event for six year now, will help the new chair next year during her last year as an active Jaycee.

The show is sold out for vendors. As of Friday, Blashill said there are 135 slated to take part and six others on a waiting list, if she can figure out how to fit them in.

"I had a lot of return business," she said.

Some of that is because the show moved last year to the Sanford Center, the city's multiuse events center.

"Last year, most if not all of the (vendors) came up, said they had a good show and liked the venue and planned to come back," Blashill said.

But the question remaining for this coming weekend is: Will the spectators return?

When the Stittsworth conundrum climaxed in February, there were numerous boycott threats. They subsided earlier this month, but Blashill said she is now again receiving text messages and emails about potential boycotts.

"They will only be hurting the other 135 vendors who have paid to be there," Blashill said.

Stittsworth Meats, itself, has long supported the Jaycees- it pays the membership for all of its eligible employees - and Mychal said it will continue to support the organization.

"I never blamed them," he said of the Jaycees.

He, too, is aware of the boycott potential.

"I just tell that we're going to participate in the show because the Jaycees do a lot for the community," he said. "We're still going to have a booth."

The show will be held 3-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for ages 6-15 and free for those under 5. Parking is free.

Seminars this year will include information on home organization, the 2012 Department of Natural Resources' wolf season, interior design, bike maintenance, gardening and horses for heroes.

"I really enjoy the show," Blashill said. "It's my favorite project that the Jaycees run. It's a great time to reconnect with people."