The snow goes bust as show rolls on

Attendance was down at the Philadelphia Flower Show after a forecast of heavy snow, but not as dramatically as happened after some past forecasts that never came to pass. Discounted admission may have helped with that.
Attendance was down at the Philadelphia Flower Show after a forecast of heavy snow, but not as dramatically as happened after some past forecasts that never came to pass. Discounted admission may have helped with that. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 05, 2014

For the second time in as many years, a forecast for a major snowstorm during the Philadelphia Flower Show turned into a bust.

Early forecasts called for eight to 12 inches in the city and region Sunday night into Monday, but far less fell. And while you couldn't exactly skateboard through the aisles Monday, crowds were definitely lighter than usual at the Convention Center, where the nine-day show runs through Sunday.

As show organizers know from experience, the threat of snow deters visitors just as much as actual snow does. So the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), which produces the annual floral fest, did something it's never done before:

It offered discounted online tickets - $20 vs. $27 online or $32 at the door - from 2 p.m. Sunday through midnight Monday, good for any day of the show. By 11 a.m. Monday, 3,100 people had taken advantage of it, a number that grew to 5,850 just two hours later, despite some technical problems with the show's website early on.

Until Monday, attendance was on track with last year's. "We're obviously down today, but we're hoping to build the momentum back up by the end of the week," PHS spokesman Alan Jaffe said.

(For the rest of this week: The forecast calls for no snow but possible rain, with temperatures in the 20s and 30s through Thursday, and in the 40s from Friday through Sunday. More than five feet of snow has fallen here this winter, the third snowiest on record.)

At some point, Jaffe added, PHS may consider adding a permanent discounted ticket for certain times and days of the show, but not this year.

PHS president Drew Becher said last year that a $20 ticket was being discussed to increase audiences after 5 p.m. on weekdays, when crowds are the lightest. That idea was rejected for 2014, he said, due to the rising popularity of theme nights, such as an LGBT Party, Girls Night Out, and Wedding Wednesday and the boost expected from a $125 VIP package that includes one free ticket, discounted food and parking, early-morning entry to the show, and other perks.

But the expense of attending the Flower Show continues to be an issue for people like Terri Batz, a human resources assistant from Burlington, who stopped going a few years ago because of the cost of the tickets.

"A lot of us wanted to go, but we don't want to pay that price. It makes a big difference when you're buying for multiple people," said Batz, who eagerly bought three discounted tickets online for $60 Monday morning.

At the regular price, she would have paid $81 online or $96 at the door. "Add $25 for parking, and that's a lot of money," she said. "If tickets were $20 all the time, I'd go every year."

Gerri Burton of Bryn Mawr goes regardless, but she, too, snapped up several $20 tickets Monday and will treat some friends to the show Saturday.

Burton, a 78-year-old who prides herself on her ability to "sniff out a deal," said she goes to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and always manages to get a discount.

"My ticket to the opera averages $36. The Flower Show is $32. The Flower Show is in no way comparable to the Metropolitan Opera," Burton said. "I think the Flower Show is high."

PHS is a nonprofit, and the Flower Show is its largest fund-raiser, most years generating $1 million or more for PHS's urban gardening and farming, tree-planting, and public landscapes programs.

This year's theme - ARTiculture, a blending of art and horticulture - paired exhibitors and floral designers with museums and art schools. The result has drawn wide praise for the sophisticated interplay of the two disciplines and quality of exhibits.

PHS has high hopes for the 2014 production, which follows a show that lost about $2 million and, combined with a drop in government grants and foundation support, led to layoffs, program cutbacks, and a staff reorganization in 2013.

Weather was a factor last year, too, after a much-hyped midweek snowstorm failed to land, at least in the city. That day, the Convention Center aisles were skateboard-worthy, as visitors stayed home and out-of-town tour buses canceled and received ticket refunds.

But weather is always a factor in early March. Sometimes it's a disaster: The 1993 Flower Show closed early because of a blizzard.

Then there was 2001. Philadelphia meteorologist John Bolaris infamously hyped the "storm of the century" during Flower Show week, upending the region and the show. The storm delivered two inches outside Philadelphia and missed the city altogether.


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