After waking up this morning, I read this article—which if I’m being honest didn’t shine that much new light on the situation here in Texas for me—and then decided that halfwheel shouldn’t be going to the 2020 PCA Convention & Trade Show, if it even happens at all.
I presented my thoughts to Brooks and Patrick and we were all quickly in agreement: halfwheel won’t be attending the 2020 PCA Convention & Trade Show.
THERE AREN’T MORE IMPORTANT THINGS THAN LIVING
For the last couple of months I’ve taken the stance that: a. the 2020 PCA Convention & Trade Show—scheduled for July 10-14 in Las Vegas—would not happen because of coronavirus COVID-19; b. if it did happen, we would be there to cover it, or at least I would be.
Ever since lockdowns started, I’ve believed that the trade show would eventually be canceled barring some sort of miraculous turn of events that medical experts wouldn’t see coming. In other words, if it was going to happen there would be no question that it would be safe.
I hadn’t really pondered what would happen if the trade show was happening in a world that more or less wasn’t as safe as last summer. Because of the aforementioned stances I never really considered whether I was comfortable with going, either the show would happen or it wouldn’t and my attendance would be based on other’s people’s choices. But I started thinking about my own comfort level attending the trade show about a week ago, just as I was trying to figure out whether I’d be comfortable returning to a restaurant this past weekend.
And I don’t feel comfortable attending the trade show, but I feel far more uncomfortable with anyone else going because of halfwheel.
If anyone else on our team—Brian, Brooks, Heather or Patrick—were to get sick in Vegas, I would feel awful. And in the rare event that one of them got very sick, needing to go to the hospital or worse, I would have a hard time living with myself.
Thinking more about it, doing what halfwheel does at the annual trade show in a time of coronavirus sounds pretty miserable.
Some people have misinterpreted the Venetian’s planned COVID-19 safety measures. Much of what has been announced in regards to guests and attendees of a trade show at the Sands Expo Center are suggestions, not rules. The four-person per elevator limit is a suggestion, not a requirement. The only real change seems to be if your body temperature is over 100.3 you could be subject to additional screening and I suppose, the Venetian could bar you from entry. But the idea that you will have to be six-feet away from someone while wearing a mask and getting your temperature checked hourly is not true, at least not per the Venetian’s policies that have been announced.
While the trade show floor could function more or less the same as last year, halfwheel’s operations in Las Vegas would not.
Walking around a grocery store wearing gloves and a mask isn’t the worst of things, doing that for four consecutive sleep-deprived days is a bit different. Our nightly staff dinners—one of my favorite parts of going to Vegas—would be replaced by eating room service by myself. Trips to a bar, a manufacturer’s party or just spending 15 minutes to catch up with someone I haven’t seen in a while—those are all things I also don’t feel comfortable doing 66 days out from the start of PCA 2020. When I think about what I did last year during my week in Vegas, so little of it seems like it could happen in today’s environment and what’s left will have to be done while wearing a mask in the middle of a Las Vegas summer.
So we’ve decided to cover the trade show in the safest way possible, by not going.
WILL THERE BE ANY NEW PRODUCTS TO COVER?
And it’s at that point I have to ask what we would be doing in Vegas anyway?
We aren’t journalists risking our lives to go cover war. The odds of death between a reporter going to cover genocide in Syria and because of halfwheel getting coronavirus in Las Vegas at PCA 2020 are almost certainly not the same, but the necessity of that coverage is monumentally different. I’m not willing to ask someone to dramatically increase the risks of infection all so you can read about the newest XIKAR lighter.
And that’s assuming that XIKAR will be there and have a new lighter to show off, which is less of a guarantee as the days go by. I don’t know what XIKAR/Quality Importers’ plans are, it’s just an example, but nearly every company we’ve spoken to, including the ones who have already put down deposits for booths, say their attendance is some form of TBD. And if I can’t tell how companies will be there and who will have new products, I’m pretty sure no one can. Right now, it seems really difficult to imagine that half of the cigar companies that were there last year—we covered 150 companies—will be there for 2020 and even then, it seems likely that more than half of those companies wouldn’t have any new products.
That’s not a blind guess. Over the past five weeks, Patrick Lagreid and I have sent hundreds of emails to all the companies who have attended the last two trade shows as well as those listed for attending in 2020. The results in terms of companies backing out aren’t as bad as you would think they would be, but it’s safe to say it’s not just going to be Altadis U.S.A., Davidoff, Drew Estate and General Cigar Co. and “a few others” not attending—there are some other companies whose products our readers care deeply about who have already said they aren’t going.
For us—for halfwheel, the business—things are a lot different than a cigar manufacturer or a retailer. The trade show isn’t a massive financial windfall, though I’d argue that’s increasingly also the case for many cigar companies. We make a little bit of money during the trade show but it’s not that profitable when all is said and done. Our top-line revenue will take a decent hit but there are tens of thousands of dollars in expenses we won’t have to pay for by not going. It is the busiest month of the year for both content and traffic at halfwheel and I’m willing to take those hits to make sure that I’m not responsible for sending anyone to the hospital. (And for those wondering, we’ve already paid our membership dues to the PCA and some other companies have talked about not exhibiting but making donations to the organization so it can continue to fund the legal fight against FDA and others.)
But for me, as someone that employs people—albeit, not many—the decision seems so simple: the reward of going is rapidly decreasing and the risks simply aren’t going away.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR PCA 2020 COVERAGE GOING FORWARD
I’m not sure.
We are going to continue to send emails asking if people are going and asking about new products. We might even do some of these live shows before the trade show though I’m not sure how much content there’s actually going to be.
We’re not boycotting writing articles about the trade show, but we won’t be in Vegas so there won’t be booth coverage.
Hopefully—for everyone involved, including the Premium Cigar Association—we are just jumping the gun and the PCA will announce a cancellation shortly. Along with Brooks and Patrick, I really don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest from either a business or health standpoint to be attending whatever version of the trade show might be able to happen at this point, least of all the PCA.
And I’m hardly alone.
As far as I can tell, there are very few people who want to see this year’s show happen at this point due to both health concerns and a widely-held belief that brick-and-mortar retail cigars stores are having a very rough go of it due to the coronavirus epidemic.
Last night we all went to bed with the intent of covering the trade show, but in a relatively short period of time, we made a pretty big decision as far as our business goes. By not attending, we’ve made the decision to (potentially) not write what would normally be 200+ posts—more than a month’s worth of content—and we did it in a few minutes.
Whenever things get a bit intense internally, I remind people that we are a cigar blog and the work we do isn’t a matter of life or death—and there’s no reason why we should try to flirt with ever making it anything close to that.