The Steel City Con Debacle

My mom and I have a lot in common–one of the traits we share is our love of a good, old-fashioned boycott. We dislike your business practices or you screw us over, we’ll drop you without a second thought and never come back. I mean, my mom hasn’t shopped at Sears for well over a decade over something that has to do with our furnace breaking in the middle of winter and something about space heaters. I was a kid at the time and I can never remember the details of it, but the point is Sears wasn’t very good to my mom in the process and she’s looked upon the company with disdain ever since. As for me, I do my best to avoid companies whose moral compass doesn’t align with my own, and most recently, I blogged about what pushed me to stop buying from an Etsy shop I loved. I decided not to name them at the time, but fuck it, it’s Nerds with Vaginas.

Anyone who’s read this blog or has seen my various social-media posts in April, August, or December knows I always spend a weekend at Steel City Con in Monroeville. I’ve been going with my dad and brother since they first found out about it a few years ago, and in those years, my brother and I have taken friends and fiancees.

I bought a three-day pass this time around, mostly out of convenience rather than an actual desire to go all three days. The online sale on the passes was really good, which was great, considering prices have regularly been increasing and I was starting to think it was getting to be too much money for what the event offered. A three-day pass was $30–the same price as full-price Saturday passes–and because we’ve had issues in the past with traffic or wanting to see something one evening and ending up not having time to walk around, I figured it was worth it. That way, if something came up, we weren’t stuck with passes only good for one day that we couldn’t take full advantage of.

I had to work Saturday and figured I’d just go Sunday. My dad and brother went Saturday, and my dad happened to text me and mention that the show was sold out and that people were having to wait until someone else left before they could get in. It sounded chaotic but not horrible, as the Saturday shows usually are, although I’d never heard of one selling out before. I made a note to my fiancé that we ought to make it a point to get up early so we could get there and get in and not worry about lines. And as three-day passholders, we were able to get in a half-hour early. Bam. Done.

So I was perusing Twitter on Saturday night, like I do, and I saw this tweet from Sci-Fi Valley Con mentioning a Pittsburgh convention. And I thought, “Oh, shit, I hope it’s not Steel City Con,” and it was.

You can read the whole story for yourself here and here, and I recommend you do, especially if you have attended or plan to attend Steel City Con. But in short, the convention sold out and didn’t post anything about it on their social media–and people were checking, lest they drive all the way out and end up not being able to get it. People in line were told the venue was at capacity, but people who preordered their tickets were able to get in no problem. No explanation was offered by convention staff, and it got to the point that people starting asking other people who were leaving to buy their wristbands off of them so they could get in, which was apparently done in front of staff and security, who let it happen. Now, I realize it’s not the greatest, but honestly, if it were me in either position, I’d probably do the same thing, especially if people made it a point to check for a sell-out and saw nothing. People posting to the convention’s Facebook page about tickets selling out started seeing their posts deleted and found that they’d been banned from interaction with the page, and I saw this happen myself when I visited the page and saw a woman had posted about another interaction, only to find it gone a few minutes later. That interaction was a woman posting about having been banned from the page, followed by the page commenting on her post calling her a liar and a thief for buying someone else’s wristband, which is extremely unprofessional.

I actually thought initially that some of the issues were miscommunication–I was hearing somewhat conflicting stories, and it sounded like maybe organizers didn’t communicate something well to staff or staff didn’t communicate something well to patrons. Some people said if you waited long enough, you could get in, others said the line didn’t move and resorted to less-than-honest means of getting in. Now, though, it looks more like organizers were actively deceiving people wanting to get in.

I was really put off by the whole thing, and honestly, even now, if the convention were to un-ban everyone and issue an apology, I’d feel better. I even told Paul Saturday night that had we not bought tickets in advance, I’d consider not even going because I hate it when my money benefits assholes.

And then I started to think about it a little more, and I felt bad that there’d be vendors I really like and support regularly whose business would be hurt, albeit by a fraction, if I didn’t go. And to be honest, when we went Sunday, we had a great time, and I bought some awesome stuff. Ironically, it’s probably the most amount of money I’ve spent on a single trip there ever. The guest list for the next convention is pretty good, too, so I left Sunday with a bit of a change of heart and decided, somewhat begrudgingly, to keep going but maybe more sporadically, like only when a celebrity I want to see is going as opposed to every single show.

In the meantime, I’d been popping on Facebook here and there to keep an eye on how that how mess was progressing. Earlier in the morning, I’d done the same thing and screencapped some negative posts, thinking it might be a good idea in the midst of this mass ban-and-delete fest. I’d even commented on a few, explaining to some people who seemed confused just what had happened and that I found the con’s behavior to be really unprofessional–anyone with the tiniest bit of PR knowledge knows that you don’t respond to complaints by calling people liars. You say something like, “We’re so sorry you had this negative experience, and we’ll do our best to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” and maybe you offer free or discounted stuff. And people are usually okay with that. I mean, like I said, I’m pretty forgiving, and you issue a standard apology and I’m mostly willing to let it go.

But when I went to see how things were progressing, I found that I, too, had been banned. Couldn’t access the visitor posts I’d wanted to see, couldn’t comment on posts, couldn’t like posts, couldn’t do anything but share–and all I’d done was basically say, “They’ve been deleting posts and banning people, and it’s extremely unprofessional.” It was like anything remotely negative had to be silenced, like they had to keep up appearances and make it look like it was a much better, much smoother convention than it really had been. And really, keeping up appearances is all it is, because a lot of people are really unhappy and I saw more than one post (which have been deleted since) saying that the poster didn’t intend to return to the convention after all this, and now, I find myself in that same position. I was a longtime attendee and three-day passholder who was willing to give them a second chance, but I don’t appreciate the utter refusal to take any criticism and the censorship of anyone who speaks out.

My only complaints in the past have been crowding and high prices, as well as some sketchiness with middle-aged men taking pictures of underage girls without their knowledge or consent–some time after a con, my dad mentioned having seen this to my brother and I and asked if he should’ve reported it, to which we said yes, and I sent a respectful e-mail explaining what my dad saw and just expressing that it might be something they want to keep an eye on. I never received a response back, but as it never seemed to be an issue again, I let it go. But as it turns out, the convention has been building a bad reputation, mostly among vendors. I’d noticed some of the vendors I loved the most only attended once or twice, never to be seen again, and now I can’t help but wonder if this is why. Then there are posts like this, detailing some of the issues vendors have had.

So after reading the posts and my own negative experience, Paul and I have decided this past Steel City Con was our last, unless ownership changes hands or apologies are issued or something. Instead, we’ll be looking for alternatives. We’re considering the new, upcoming 3 Rivers Comicon, but as we have a wedding to go to that weekend, we might not make it. But we’re also looking at November’s Wizard World, as well as Altoona convention Sci-Fi Valley Con, whose initial tweet caught my eye. If Paul and I can get the time off work, we’ll be taking a long weekend to visit that then head over to State College. If we do, I intend to eat my way across Happy Valley.

So good riddance, Steel City Con. We had a good run. I hope you learn from your mistakes.

Now, I still feel like all of this is unfair to the vendors, and there are some great ones. So with the hope of driving some more business over to them, I’ve decided to list below as many of my favorite go-tos as I can remember. It’s definitely not comprehensive, as I’ve lost some business cards over the years, but they’re great and they deserve your business.


3 thoughts on “The Steel City Con Debacle”

  1. I don’t know how, but I literally just stumbled upon this.
    I am the woman who Steel City Con called the liar and the thief. I am also one of the ones who wrote one of the blog posts you linked to and the other one was written by my sister in law. I’ll give an update on what ended up happening, especially since people may still find this while searching the convention online.

    We had got our wrist bands (it was actually tickets, but tickets get you the wrist bands so…but I guess it was my fault for not specifying) from a couple who didn’t even use them. They arrived at the convention, saw the fiasco and decided they were not going to deal with it, so they asked for a refund. They were refused. As they walked away, they asked my husband and I (who were next in line and had been waiting for 3 hours to get in) if we wanted to buy them so we could then get in and they would at least get some of their money back. So we agreed. They let us right in, because like I had said in my original post, they were allowing people who preordered right through the doors but still maintained the “We’re at capacity” for those buying tickets at the door.

    The promoter, after our interaction, went to the police and had me charged with theft by deception for buying scalped tickets in the parking lot, which by the way, is not a crime at all. I do not have a record, but was forced to go through 5 months of hell over this as I had to drive 2 hours into Pittsburgh to get mugshots and finger prints. I was treated like I had already been convicted as soon as I walked in the police department. The officers were yelling at me and making me feel terrible. During this, I was being harassed online by their fans and their biggest fan Cy Samuels. I even got death threats at one point because Cy claimed that what I posted on my blog was keeping her from earning money. Truth be told, if you vend at that con and aren’t making money, it’s not my fault, it’s the promoters fault.

    I hired the best defense lawyer I could find in my area. On the day of my hearing, the officer pulled me outside while my lawyer was in with the judge and tried to have me plead guilty to him without my lawyer present. I refused and the officer got huffy with me and told me to go back inside and sit down. After about a half hour, my lawyer came out and told me the judge was throwing the case out because it was ridiculous, but my lawyer offered to pay $60 back to him for the tickets just to shut him up. My lawyer watched him throw a tantrum in the courtroom after asking if there was “anything else he could have me charged with” which made it apparent to the lawyers and judge that he wasn’t there to right a wrong he thought was imposed upon him, but to stick it to me as a lesson to anyone else who challenged him and because I have a rather large following including celebrities and other convention promoters. The judge allowed my lawyer to proceed with having my record wiped so the ridiculousness wouldn’t follow me to the grave and make it hard for me to get a job or anything else.

    Ever since then, he’s had to recycle celebrity guests because no one wants to be apart of his egotistical rage and holier than thou attitude. That’s why the recent guests are repeats or just uninteresting in general. There is a reason SCC does not have a review section on their facebook page. And anyone who truly thinks about it will realize it’s because they are habitually angering the public over their actions.

    1. Good God, what a ridiculous mess. I’m sorry they put you through all that, but I’m glad the guy got nothing out of it and nothing’s staying on your record.

      I talked to someone I know who’s set up a booth there and told this story, and they told me the people in charge are like “gestapo.” I kind of chuckled and they go, “No, I’m serious,” and told me they were afraid to say too much in case someone overheard, and that was about all I got. But it’s kind of one more piece that shows the way things are.

      I have gone back once or twice since all this, mostly because I’m a huge “X-Files” fan and they had some of those guys last year and managed to reel me in with them, but I’m really put off when people/businesses do things like this and I feel uncomfortable continuing to support them. It’s a real shame this is how things are run there.

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