If you have any interest in crystals, minerals, fossils or jewelry the Tucson Gem and Mineral show is an absolute must-see. Founded in 1955 from humble beginnings, it has since become the world’s largest gem fair with over 5,000 vendors and approximately 45 shows spread over the city.
The show lasts just under a month and has become the source for rock hounds, jewelers, retailers, artists and natural history enthusiasts seeking the best specimens at the best prices. Most shows are free and open to the public but there are also many wholesale/retail only shows that require licensing proof for entry.
Navigating the show your first time can be downright daunting and I never been able to find a decent guide. Now that I’ve got two years of shows under my belt, I’ve decided it’s time to impart some of my wisdom (if you can call it that) to help you wade through the magical crystal labyrinth that is the Tucson Gem and Mineral show.
Before You Go:
- First things, first: consider what you’re going for. Are you a jewelry designer with a business license? Are you a rock hound just looking to add to your personal collection? Are you a retailer looking to buy in bulk? There are shows for everyone so do your research and figure out what best suits you and you won’t waste your time driving all over town.
- Download the Tucson app to get directions to each show straight from your phone and find an updated list of vendors.
- At least 50,000 visitors flock to Tucson over the course of the show so book your accommodations well in advance. Try couchsurfing or Airbnb if you’re on a budget and be aware that hotel prices skyrocket as the show gets closer.
- Realistically consider how much time you’ll need. It would take weeks to actually see all the shows in Tucson and I’ve known people who’ve been going for 20 years and they still feel like they haven’t seen it all. Factor in how much shopping you really need to do (and how much you can really handle) and decide if this is purely a turn-around business trip or if you need time to see the sights.
- If you will be attending wholesale shows, print copies of your licenses and tax IDS and bring business cards.
- Stock up on shipping materials (bubble wrap, boxes, sharpies, tape) and bring them with you to make sure your purchases make it home safely. If you’re buying in bulk many vendors will box things for you but if you know you’re likely to get a few things here and there, you’ll be grateful you have everything you need to do it yourself.
When You’re There:
- Pick up the Tucson EZ-Guide. It is the one resource I found to actually be helpful and isn’t just bogged down with ads. It has vendor maps of the shows and of Tucson.
- Strategize which shows you’ll visit each day by their location so you don’t waste time going back and forth.
- LOCK YOUR CAR, park in well-trafficked areas, and always keep valuables in your room. Locals are known to break into cars and take advantage of tourists.
- Take a day to get acquainted with the shows. I like to spend my first day or two looking around and getting an idea of prices and vendors before I make my big purchases. There’s nothing worse than spending a big portion of your budget somewhere only to find the next vendor over has much better deals.
- Carry a backpack or bring a small rolling suitcase to carry all your purchases. Parking can be far from the venues and you can’t drive up to all of them.
- Pack water and snacks.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes.
- Pay attention to your receipts. I blindly trusted a few vendors only to come home and find that I was overcharged for items or charged for items I never received.
- Play hardball. Never accept their first price. Try your best to negotiate or simply walk away. Some vendors won’t budge on pricing and will say it is wholesale already and the lowest they can go, while others will work with you and are eager to finish the sale.
Which Shows to See:
The Rock Hound
If you’re just looking to score some awesome deals and unique specimens, go straight to the bigger outdoor shows that are often run out of hotel parking lots. Check out the Pueblo Gem and Mineral Show at the Riverpark Inn, the GIGM/Howard Johnson show at the Howard Johnson Hotel, the 22nd Street Show, the Kino Sports Complex Show and check out the tents on Oracle.
If you only have a few days, do not waste your time with the small bead shows (like the Whole Bead Show or the Double Tree location for the To Bead True Blue show). I found them overpriced and awkward because the vendors hover over you while you shop (in their hotel room) or talk to you so much you can’t get down to business. I liked the To Bead True Blue show at the Radisson but found the best deals in the parking lot tents. The G&LW Gem Mall and Holidome shows were probably the best use of my time and where I was able to talk bead/findings suppliers into the best deals because of my bulk purchases.
The Pueblo Gem and Mineral Show is a great place to find pendants, finished jewelry, and gorgeous crystal specimens but many vendors only take cash so keep this in mind and plan accordingly. I’ve found the G&LW Gem Mall, Holidome, and Kino Sports complex shows to be the best source for retailers. Find everything from finished jewelry to imported artisan goods, and make connections with future suppliers here. Check out the tents at hotel shows such as Howard Johnson for bulk crystals.
The International Buyer
If you’re flying in for the show, determine where your hotel is located and whether you need to rent a car. There is a free shuttle between the shows but if you’ll be making big purchases or you’ll want to explore the sites, renting a car will give you the most flexibility. Many international buyers find that shipping pallets home is the most cost-effective route. There are shipping booths within some shows where you can start the process and there are also many drive-up locations where you can pull in, have them unload your car and take care of shipping right then.
This is a rough guide as I’ve only attended the Tucson Gem and Mineral show in 2016 (for a brick and mortar retail store) and then in 2017 (for Vibe Catchers) but I hope it is helpful. If you have any questions, ask in the comments below and I’ll do my best to keep updating this guide.
Keep in mind, that you will most likely go over budget, you will find once-in-a-lifetime deals, and you will want to treat yourself because the show is a lot of work. Be open to serendipity and let the crystals, trinkets, jewelry, art, etc. that is meant for you, find you. Remember this is Arizona: wear sunscreen, hydrate and have a blast. Happy treasure hunting, friends!