Each week, we try to publish three different articles that represents a cross section of our industry – but this week is different. I just returned from Paducah and this was a once in a lifetime experience, so grab a cup of coffee and join me on my first trip to this Mecca for quilters. This year, life is different for all of us – and especially for the folks in Paducah, Kentucky.
You see, they have dealt with struggles and challenges that most of us will never experience. The folks at AQS were busy planning a 25th anniversary event in the midst of an uncertain economy when Mother Nature threw them a curve – one of the worst ice storms in history! Less than three months before opening day the entire area lost power – many for as long as three weeks – and the restoration continues.
The weight of the ice on these trees literally snapped them into pieces – and the remains were scattered over miles! Roads were impassable, businesses were without power, and even when electricity was restored to these locations, the employees were enduring blackout conditions! And the clean-up continues. Road crews were cutting and clearing trees for miles along the highways as we drove in.
The population of the town is 26,000 – the county seat of McCracken County – with a population of over 55,000 people. These citizens love their home and are proud to share it with over 35,000 crazy quilters every year! And this year – knowing the challenges they faced – I am so proud to have been a part of this event!
Meredith and Bill Schroeder – founders of American Quilter’s Society – have created a venue that can’t be duplicated anywhere! The first word that comes to mind is charming! The folks in Paducah are an example of Southern hospitality at its best! The grace and gentility of the people is heart warming. Manners have not gone out of style – and it is so refreshing to have doors opened for you, drivers taking your hand as they help you out of a car, policemen on bicycles helping lost pedestrians….and smiles on every face…..
We stayed at a lodge on a beautiful lake approximately 45 miles away so we did have a little commute but there were no traffice jams because the city set up a Park and Ride at the local fairgrounds. They even have shopping and entertainment there – Eleanor Burns! She has her famous tent show at this location and two more tents full of books, patterns, and fabrics just for shopping! What a welcoming committee!!!
You park your car there and jump on a shuttle – for FREE – to go anywhere you want! Shuttles run constantly to take you downtown, to the convention center, to the quilt museum, to Hancock’s – they even have shuttles that will drop you off anywhere at absolutely no charge! How thoughtful is that!
This is a city with a small town feel. They have preserved the downtown that was built where four rivers converge – the Ohio, the Tennessee, the Cumberland, and the Mississippi. A quiet walk along the river – and the flood walls painted in murals – leads from downtown to the convention center.
Quilt shops, antique stores, and privately owned restaurants abound on brick streets in the most beautiful setting with the river as a backdrop. Horse-drawn carriages and trolleys are part of the landscape! And quilts are displayed everywhere!
And, then there is the Convention Center – the heart of it all! The shuttle drops you off at the corner where tents are erected so that the people waiting for the shuttles can sit, rest and wait in the shade! And, the county fair feeling continues because there are tents set up where food vendors are selling fresh squeezed lemonade, homemade potato chips, brats, corn dogs, strawberry shortcake……we were drooling before we even got in the door!
The quilt show is right in the middle of the vendor’s mall so there is eye candy wherever you look! It is simply breathtaking! They have chairs lining all of the halls so people can take a break when needed. And sometimes quilters in the making just couldn’t wait for a nap!
Many of the vendors have been participating for years and have become dear friends. And this sense of friendship spills over into the aisles. One vendor will recommend another – and even leave their booth to introduce you to their neighbors! Where else will you see Kaye Wood at the end of one aisle and Rita Fishel and her sidekick, Linda Burton at the end of another!
Linda Burton and Rita Fishel
Kaye WoodThere are even vendors at the mall – and these booths transform a commercial destination into a taste of home! And, the vendors made it worth the trip!
There is only one thing missing from this entire event – a sense of commercialism! There are no long lines for over-priced taxis, no expensive parking garages, no $3.00 bottles of water, no honking horns….just an entire town that opens its arms every year to welcome our entire industry with dignity and grace….and this year, overcame impossible obstacles to make this happen! And speaking for the entire quilting community, we thank you!