So are you coming to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show 2020?
Thousands of dealers and buyers from all over the world flock to the small town of Tucson, Arizona to participate in the world’s largest gem and mineral show in late January and the first two weeks of February.
The Tucson Gem Show started in 1955. Click here to learn more about the history of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
There are actually approximately 50 different show venues and you can find all things rocks, minerals, gemstones, and fossils related here. For first timers and veterans it can be both awe inspiring and overwhelming at the same time. So I have put together a guide and a list of tips on how to get the most out of your visit!
- 1) Lodging- Finding a place to stay can be difficult if you haven’t booked early, but it is still available. Tucson is considered a small town, but it is very spread out. There are some not too expensive motels on the north end and some higher end hotels in the northeast. Unfortunately most of the hotels do charge higher rates during the show. Sometimes you can get a room where a show is being held. Some people like this for convenience, but most of these are not very nice hotels, the maid service is very stressed and it can be noisy!
Here is a great link to the city’s website with some interesting facts and info on where to get help finding lodging:
Also check out Airbnb, as the Tucson residents are very aware that they can make money off their houses during the show.
There are no camping facilities in nearby Saguaro National Park, but Catalina and Picacho Peak State parks north of Tucson offer camping with RV hookups at reasonable rates.
- 2) Where to Eat- Most of the larger shows have concessions stands or restaurants on the premises. With some exceptions, the food and, due to the crowds, the service is rarely good. It’s hard to leave to eat and come back if parking is an issue. Consider packing your lunch or at least snacks for during the day. No matter your preference, there are plenty of restaurants for dinner. There are some great high end places, ethnic places, as well as chain restaurants and inexpensive choices. The ones close to show areas can get very crowded. Sometimes it is better to get a little away from the area. There is a very nice night life area downtown.
- 3) Traffic/Transportation/Parking- The traffic in Tucson is brutal. The parking at some of the shows is even worse. Some shows charge for parking. Taxis can be called, but are not readily available like some cities. However Uber, Lyft and other such services are available. It is usually best to have a car, even if you have to rent it. But be prepared. Start your day out early to secure a parking space.
There is also a great free shuttle to get from show to show.
If you want to take the shuttle to The Rock Yard take the Mineral and Fossil Loop (purple) and get off at stop # 8 the Mineral City Show at 516 W Lester and we are just a short walking distance heading west on Lester (615 W Lester).
We do have plenty of parking both onsite and around The Rock Yard. And we are within walking distance from lots of shows in the Oracle/Lester area. You can ask us or the dealers at other shows to hold your purchase and drive in later to pick them up. Most shows (including the HTTC) have an area where you can short term park to pick up all your purchases.
- 4) Weather and What to Pack- There’s a reason why the show is held in Arizona in the middle of winter. The average daytime temperature in January is 66°F and in February it is 70°F. Often it can hit the 80’s°F, but it has, on rare occasion, snowed during the show! And in 2019 it snowed the week after the show. Sometimes it is very cold, below freezing, and at the very least we almost always get rainy days. So bring a jacket and plan to dress in layers. Some shows are indoors, or in big tents, but many are in motels going in and out of motel rooms and some are outdoors. It’s a good idea to bring sunscreen. Wear casual clothes and bring comfortable shoes for lots of walking. An umbrella or boots to walk in mud can be useful too!
Tucson is very dry, be sure and bring along water bottles each day and drink plenty.
Bring extra checks or better yet, some cash. Most of the shows are free to get into, but some do charge for parking. Not all of the dealers will accept credit cards. If you plan to use a credit card remember the card people get confused when you use it in Arizona, then with an Oregon dealer, than with a Chinese dealer! It’s good to call them to let them know you will be using the card in this way. If they put a hold on your card don’t panic, the dealers are use to this, call the number on the back of the card and explain. Also I recommend you download your banks app and turn on alerts if you have a smart phone so you can track your purchases or okay purchases online.
Rocks can get heavy. At the very least you’ll want a backpack, but a rolling suitcase is better. Wagons, strollers and such can be very difficult to maneuver-especially in the shows held in small motel rooms. Most of the dealers do have carts you can use for larger orders.
I also recommend you bring a notebook (or use your phone) and take LOTS of notes. Take note of what you buy, where you got it and how much you paid. Invoices can sometimes not be thorough and you think you will remember, but you won’t. If you make a purchase and plan to pick it up later-send yourself a reminder on your phone. Note where you see things and compare prices. But remember-this event is huge, you will tell yourself you will think about something and come back. That’s not always easy to do. Also often the item will already be sold. If you see something truly special that you love you might want to think hard and quick. Rocks and minerals are a unique product and it’s not always easy to find another. You may be able to find a cheaper price, but it’s not always worth the money you save. Make note of dealers you love, or who have the best price for next year! I recommend reviewing your notes every night to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
Depending on your own needs you might also want to pack a caliper, a tape measure, a loupe or optical visor, a list of what you need, a calculator, plastic bags, boxes and wrapping paper, shipping tape and markers.
Illness is very common at the Tucson show. People travel here from everywhere. You might want to throw in antibacterial wipes, Airborne or something similar, Vitamin C, and some cold and flu medicines (they are easy to find in Tucson, but you may not feel like going out to get it!). Make sure you eat healthy, drink lots of water, wash your hands often and get lots of rest. Some people who have extended stays try to take off a day to do touristy things or visit nature.There is actually plenty to do in or near Tucson.
- 5) Safety/Security- Surprisingly for all the money and gemstones present, the show is fairly safe. But crime is everywhere. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Be alert going in and out of your motel room. By careful leaving your motel room windows or doors open, even if you are in them. Carry money and credit cards on your person. And be careful not to lay your backpacks, purses or purchases down unattended or forgotten. Most shows have security guards, if you feel unsafe ask for their assistance. And report any instances immediately.
Keep in mind that deals that seem too good to be true probably are. Though it happens sometimes, rarely will you find that million dollar stone in the $10 pile. Most fossils and even some minerals have been repaired or reconstructed. Examine them carefully and ask questions. Most of the dealers are legit, but it is a buyer beware market. For big purchases stick to known dealers. Research them on-line.
- 6) Wholesale/Retail- Most of the shows are open to the public. But most of the dealers are here to do business to business and will wholesale if you ask. Some shows are strictly wholesale and you must have a resale license to get in. Some will even ask for more proof like a business card, proof that your business is in the lapidary or jewelry trade and a photo id like your driver’s license. Some of these shows you can preregister for online.
Other than the main show, which is mostly a retail show but does have a small wholesale section and some dealers that will wholesale, most of the dealers at all the other shows are there primarily to do business to business, but most dealers will sell to anybody-some may even give anybody the wholesale price. Legitimate dealers will ask to see your resale license and have you sign a declaration that you are purchasing it for resale or to export. Expect to pay sales tax just like anywhere else if you do not have a resale license. Carry lots of business cards. Items that are marked NET are usually marked the wholesale price. But all dealers have difference ways of pricing and discounting, so don’t be embarrassed to ask. Remember foreign dealers expect to haggle, but in America not so much. So try not to get to carried away. You don't know what the dealer has into their merchandise, so don't get rude if the dealer can't do what you want. Just go look somewhere else. Sometimes you can get quantity discounts too.
One great tip to save time-have special business cards or address labels made up with you name, address, email and tax number and these can be stuck or stapled to the tax forms or invoices!
- 7) Where to Shop- Here are two websites that put up a list of most of the show venues and the dates and times.
I recommend checking out the first one, the Interweave Magazine site, as soon as they update, because they publish the Tucson Show Guide every year that includes dealer list, maps, and even a buyer’s guide to search by product! There is another great show guide, with a metaphysical influence, the Metaguide Magazines Tucson Guide that also has a list of show locations, dates and maps. These show guides are usually at every location and I recommend you pick them up as soon as you get to the show. We will have them at The Rock Yard if you need them!
Pay attention to the dates of the shows. Many shows now open super early and close super early. Many shoppers want first pick and come early, but find that lots of shows aren’t open yet and get frustrated. Many of the dealers will give better bargains at the end of the show, but if you wait too long they may already be closed.
No matter how long you plan to stay (some dealers are open at the very first of January!), there is no way you can see the whole show. Depending on how motivated, and how much stamina you have, you may only be able to do one show a day, or you may be able to do several. Always allow more time then you think it will take. It’s very easy to get distracted or hung up at a show or even a booth. We recommend you plan your days to cover shows close to each other.
Most of the shows are still in what the Show Guide calls the Downtown Area. This is the area around Interstate 10 (on both sides) from Grant to 22nd St and stretching out to about 6th Avenue.
If you are a serious buyer, the best place to start is with the cluster of independent warehouses in the Oracle and Lester St vicinity. This is the newest destination and features several shows that house from one to maybe a dozen of the largest and most well-known vendors and sources in the business. We, of course, are partial to THE ROCK YARD at 615 W Lester St, where Barlows Gems shares the space with the Glenn Archer of Australian Outback Mining. Nearby is the Mineral and Fossil Co-Op, the 1801 Oracle Mineral Show, the 1820 Oracle Mineral Show, Mineral City, Jewel Tunnel Imports, Aurora West, Midwest Minerals, Norcross, and several others-as well as many more to come in 2021!
The area known as “the strip” runs along the west side of the frontage road starting at Congress St. On the other side of the freeway, St. Mary’s and Granada Road will take you to GJX, the Convention Center and The Hotel Tucson City Center.
The Palo Verde Area is further south and includes the JOGS show, the Gem Mall, the Holidome and the Kino Sports Complex.
There are also several other shows further away to both the south and the north end of Tucson. The Miner’s Co-op and the Westward Look Show are the furthest north up by Ina Rd. The Whole Bead Show is the probably the furthest east and the JCK Show is probably the furthest west.
Where you shop may depend on what you are looking for. Or perhaps you want to visit the larger venues with the biggest variety of dealers. If you are looking for beads you might want to concentrate on the bead shows, if you want diamonds and precious stones-AGTA is the place to go, (though New Era is at the Pueblo Inn and John Garsow is at the Hotel Tucson City Center) if you want high end minerals- Mineral City is the newest hot spot, but you might want to consider the Just Minerals event at the Elks Lodge or the Westward Ho show, if you are looking for rough rock come see us at The Rock Yard or head to the Kino Sports Plaza. If you are looking for cabochons or polished rocks, again come see us at The Rock Yard!
The show referred to as “the main show” is held at the Tucson Convention Center on the second weekend of February. If you’re a first timer, this is an excellent show for learning about gems and minerals. It is also the best location to go to if you have kids. Some of the wholesale shows do not allow kids. The main show has great displays and lectures also. Unfortunately by the time this show rolls around, most of the wholesale shows have shut down.
- 8) Shipping- Expect to purchase a lot. Expect to go over your budget. Depending on your needs you will have heavy items or fragile items. Most dealers will have wrapping and boxing materials-but not all of them do. If you travel by car, you might want to bring extras along. If you have a choice, bring the bigger car. Lots of big buyers rent trucks to take their purchases home!
Many of the shows have a shipping company on the premises. Ask around. Many shipping companies, such as UPS or Fedex, will come out to the show or your hotel room, to pick up items.
You can pick up flat rate boxes at the post office and drop them back off when ready. There are UPS stores who will pack and ship for you.
If you are traveling by plane, bring an extra suitcase. Or wrap items carefully amongst your clothes. The airports are familiar with the show and you usually can pass through with items in your carry on with no trouble.
For larger shipments (crates and part or all of a container) contact Todd McBride at firstname.lastname@example.org. He ships for many of the dealers and will be at the gem show.
Above all remember to have fun and enjoy the experience. Happy hunting!