A local institution that heralded spring — the Wichita Garden Show — is shutting down, it was announced Tuesday.
The show, which had taken place for 44 years, was going to have only one centerpiece "great garden" next year, garden show manager Alex Lingg said. Board member Cathy Brady of Brady Nursery said the board thought that people expected elaborate gardens and that if those gardens were not in the show it should just as well end.
"I never expected this to happen," Brady said. "But kind of the consensus was it had to stay huge and grandiose or nothing."
Smaller businesses that relied on the garden show for a large percentage of their businesses will be hurt, Lingg said.
"We're concerned because many, many vendors at the show get 30 to 80 percent of a whole year's work out of the garden show,'' she said. "That's going to be devastating to them."
Board president Gary Hackbart Jr. said he was not in favor of ending the show.
He said he and Lingg were in the midst of changing the concept of the show "to fit with the times," but the majority of board members "didn't want to deal with that."
Il Sik Hong, owner of Hong's Landscape & Nursery, was among five or six garden centers and landscaping companies that spent $50,000 to $140,000 each to stage the elaborate gardens in Expo Hall the first weekend of March each year. For various reasons, none of those businesses but Hong's was planning to do a great garden next year, Lingg said.
"How do you continue to ask these... people to keep putting this money out when times are tough?" Lingg asked. "I didn't mind it when I thought people were making a healthy living. Now it's a whole different story."
Hong said that the expense was worth it for his company. But Hong, a board member for 30 years, said he supported shutting down the show while it was at a high point rather than watch it decline over the years.
The show was a success this year, with 40,000 people attending over five days. But the trend over the past six years had been declining attendance, Lingg said.
"The people of Wichita did not buy into the show as a big event," retired extension agent Norman Warminski said. He moved the show from its original small meeting place in the old 4-H Hall to the Kansas Coliseum and eventually to Century II. He said a lot of the attendance came from out of town.
Warminski was the show's treasurer and blamed increasing costs and regulations associated with having the show at Century II for contributing to the show's demise.
As the costs have continued to rise, it would have been hard to keep ticket prices and booth fees in line with what the market could bear, Lingg said. Tickets were $11.50 this year.
The end of the show will bring many layers of loss.
Various garden clubs and destinations used the show as a way to introduce themselves and their plants of interest to the public.
As the years have gone by, "we tried to make it as educational as we could but we found out that people don't want to be educated, they want to be entertained," Warminski said. "That aspect is going to be gone.
"And the camaraderie of the (garden) industry will be gone."
Hong said that the garden show helped him stand out from the pack.
"It motivated me to be creative," he said. "Also to educate the public to be the better gardener.... It was one way to pay back to the community for all the loyal customers.
"It is a great loss. Not only the loss in the green industry alone, but millions of dollars were generated because of this."
Warminski said he expected some elements of the show, such as the Amateur Flower Show to live on, but in a different venue.
"I've run it for 28 years, and I know how much people love this show," Lingg said. "We're all kind of in shock."