Vendors at this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show are facing electrical bills that are more than double what they paid in 2019. The increase has sparked nearly 20 complaints, according to the show’s organizers.
Small marketplace vendors, those with booths of about 100 square feet, paid $165 last year for 10 days of power. This year the cost for the same 500 watts is spiking to nearly $400.
More than 200 vendors typically attend the flower show, which will run this year from Feb. 29 to March 8.
The vendors affected by the price increase are mostly small craftspeople and florists who already are paying an average of $4,375 to rent booth space at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City.
Sam Lemheney, the chief of shows and events for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, said that many vendors actually will see a decrease in prices.
Lemheney said that, in previous years, vendors were getting stuck with unexpected electricians’ bills for labor that were charged to their credit card accounts after the show.
“We wanted to come in with an all-in price,” Lemheney said. “This way, there are no surprises.
“Some vendors will save money because they’re not seeing any additional labor charges. However, some of the vendors we know have seen an increase that was more substantial and we’re working with the [Convention Center] to see if we can correct that.”
Many of the small businesses contacted by The Inquirer did not want to go on the record because they feared possible retaliation from organizers or the IBEW Local 98, which represents electricians at the Convention Center.
But Frank Keel, a spokesman for Local 98, said the union had “no involvement” in the surging costs “whatsoever." The electricians are not benefiting from the rate increase “at all,” he said.
John McNichol, executive director of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, said there had been “no major change, no new focus, no added layer [of costs]."
Vendors pay two fees, McNichol said. “A charge for an electrical drop and the power we provide; and labor involved in providing it, cost and materials.”
The convention center sought to lower costs starting last summer by letting exhibitors erect and tear down their own booths at the big conferences. Union leaders said it was their idea.
But one craft vendor, who asked to remain anonymous, said the cost to participate in the annual Flower Show is constantly increasing.
In 2016, a booth measuring 12x12 square feet was $4,120, or about $28.60 a square foot. Since then, the flower show has reduced the size of the vendor’s booth to 10x10 square feet but increased the price to $4,375, or $43.75 a square foot.
“That’s quite an increase,” the vendor said.
A vendor of essential oils said he was “a little surprised the electricity bill was so high this year,” but added that the business he generates at the Flower Show makes it worthwhile.
“It’s all relative,” said Ken Gilbert, the general manager of Scentastics of Brattleboro, Vt.
Gilbert has sold oils, fragrances and soaps at the Flower Show for six years and says he wouldn’t miss it. “We spend two months a year just making stuff for that show,” he said. The returns he gets on his investment more than make up for the rate hike, he said.
“It’s an expensive gig, but you get what you pay for," Gilbert said. "We get customers there that order all year round. I get 10 to 15 orders a week from people I meet in Philadelphia. Everyone loves our product.”
Scott Kremp, of the Willow Grove-based Kremp Florist, will have four locations at the show this year with nearly 1,000 square feet of sales and display space.
It’s Kremp’s 45th year at the Flower Show. The price of electricity “really doesn’t effect our total costs,” Kremp said. “Rents, flowers, everything, the costs go up, just as the ticket prices do.”
He’s not letting an electrical bill dampen his enthusiasm for the show.
“There’s not many places you can go for a 10-day period and have 250,000 walk by your booth,” Kremp said. “It’s great for us. We love being there. The larger utility bill won’t make much of a difference.”