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.