The decision to close the Wichita Garden Show was made too hastily and will hurt many small businesses that relied on the show for exposure, the owner of Hong's Landscape & Nursery said Wednesday.
On the other hand, not many young people were involved in the garden show, and its closing is an opportunity to rethink horticulture in Wichita, extension agent Rebecca McMahon said.
Both Il Sik Hong and McMahon are board members of the garden show, which is having a going-out-of-business sale today through Saturday at its office at 1024 N. West St. Office supplies, show posters — and the makings of a hillbilly golf course — are among the items for sale. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hong said he regretted his decision to join the majority of garden show board members last month in voting to close down the show after 44 years. There was an effort a few weeks ago to revisit the decision, Hong said, but it didn't gain enough steam to reverse course.
"I feel we lost a great treasure in this town. And after we made the decision ... I thought about how much damage we will be giving to this community — many in the green industry, in the hard-good industry, lawnmower, tractor and those kind of shops. This was one of the biggest ways to expose (their products) to the community, and we are really damaging many people's small business. I really feel sad about this."
Garden show director Alex Lingg said she had received calls from 50 to 100 vendors, some angry, some crying, wondering how they would get their products out in front of people now.
"No thought was given to" the smaller vendors, Lingg said. "These people were important to the show, and they got no hearing."
Hong's was the only garden business that was willing to do a centerpiece "great garden" at next year's show, and that was one of the reasons the board decided to close it rather than transform it into a show that emphasized smaller gardens. Lingg and Hong both said members of the board also were just tired.
Lingg said some of the board members wanted the show to make a profit.
"We broke even for a number of years," she said. "Because we didn't have money put back, they thought we were a crisis waiting to happen."
Extension agent McMahon, at age 28 by far the youngest board member, said Wednesday she thought the decision to close the show was the right one.
"The show as it was wasn't sustainable, and when you make drastic changes, sometimes a clean break is better than to make changes, then everyone's disappointed that it's different."
McMahon said the board membership was supposed to reflect the various categories of the show, but it was always a struggle to get enough representatives to serve on it.
She said she thought many of the smaller businesses that had booths at the show also attended other shows where they could get their products in front of customers.
The fact that the garden show closed abruptly and surprisingly is evident in the sale, which includes storage bins, tools, office supplies, paper products, coolers, caution tape, printers, storage shelves, sign holders, humidifiers, big coffee pots — everything that was used year in and year out to put on the show.
"I was always buying in quantity, never thinking it would close up," Lingg said. She said she had 17 contracts yet to break, for things such as phone service.
Shirley Ackerman heard about the sale early and was there Wednesday, hoping to fill in gaps in her collection of garden show posters. She said she and her family had been going to the show since moving to town in 1968.
"It's very disappointing," Ackerman said of the show's closing, joining a chorus of garden-show fans who say they'd rather have a smaller-scale garden show than no show at all.
McMahon said people her age are more interested in food gardening, and that is a different audience from that of the garden show.
"I think that at some point there will be an opportunity for something resembling a garden show in Wichita again, but it will look different; it will have a different flair....
"I look at it as an opportunity to rethink horticulture in Wichita and what other kinds of things can be beneficial to gardeners and to the industry."
Lingg said she knew of a radio station and a TV station that were thinking of starting a garden show. Hong said he'd do something himself if he had to.
"If there's no garden show — I'm not speaking for other nurseries, but at least for myself," Hong said, "I'd like to do something else in the spring that people can come and enjoy."