published Monday, February 1st, 2010

Civil War show aims to do big business

IF YOU GO

What: Chickamauga Civil War Show and Sale

When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Where: NorthWest Georgia Trade and Convention Center, Dalton, Ga.

Admission: $8 adults; free for children 12 and under

By Jimmy Espy, Correspondent

Bad economy or not, the organizer of the Chickamauga Civil War Show and Sale in Dalton, Ga., is looking to do big business.

"We have 475 dealer tables sold for this year," said promoter Mike Kent. "That's up from the usual 350 to 450 tables."

In its 15th year, the event, held at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center, has grown to be one of the largest Civil War shows in the nation. Mr. Kent expects 2,000 to 2,500 people to attend.

"We do five Civil War shows a year, and next to Nashville, this is the biggest one," he said.

His company, Mike Kent and Associates of Atlanta, also produces about 20 gun and knife shows nationally each year.

It's Mr. Kent's fourth year producing the Dalton Civil War show, which he took over from another promoter. But the market for Civil War-related merchandise is "kind of strange right now," he said.

Because of the economy, some collectors and other people are bringing in items that they might not have parted with in the past. That's important to many of Mr. Kent's vendors because they look at a public show as an opportunity to buy collectible material, as well as to sell.

"We'll have a vendor tell us that he didn't have a good show selling, but he bought some good items," Mr. Kent said. "The vendor considers that a good show because he knows he'll be able to sell the new stuff on the Internet or at a later show.

  • photo
    Staff File Photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press Stephen McKinney, left, and his son, Patrick Cleburne Mckinney, 16, look at an 1859 Sharps carbine breech loader at the Chickamauga Southern National Civil War Show held last year at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center in Dalton, Ga. Mr. McKinney and his son are dressed as Confederate infantry privates and are from Ringgold, Ga.

"Vendors really have to work hard right now," he said. "They have to get to all the major shows and make contact with potential customers."

Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb sees the show as a teaching tool.

"For families with children, it's like a history lesson as well as a sale," he said. "The exhibits and the re-enactors are something to see."

Economically, the show makes an impact.

"We get a lot of visitors in here for the weekend," Mr. Babb said. "It usually gets a good turnout, and it's recognized as one of the best shows in the country."

A visitor will see a wide variety of historical items.

"There will be a lot of weapons for sale, particularly guns," Mr. Kent said. "Rifles, pistols, shotguns are always popular. There will also be a lot of swords."

Uniforms, documents and books also will be on hand.

"Dug relics," or items literally dug from the ground, will also be on display, including pieces taken from sites near Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Resaca and Dalton.

Mr. Kent describes a Civil War show as a "big museum where everything is for sale."

The national recession, though, has had an impact.

"Vendors are seeing a lot more stuff on the market now, but prices are definitely down," he said.

Even if a visitor doesn't buy anything, browsing is encouraged, and many dealers welcome questions. A "one-man band" will play period music, and re-enactors will wander the main sales area in colorful period attire.

Mr. Kent believes interest in the Civil War era is going to grow as the 150th anniversary of the war's beginning approaches in 2011.

"Any time you have a big anniversary, several things usually happen which raise the interest level," he said. "Some new books will come out. There may be a movie or two, and a lot of newspapers will do more stories. That makes more people interested."

Jimmy Espy is based in Dalton. E-mail him at hood.csa@aol.com

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