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Japanese pop culture convention held in Pittsburgh

March 27, 2012
By JEREMY KINS - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

PITTSBURGH - The downtown Wyndham Grand Hotel this past weekend was filled to capacity with thousands of people in eccentric wigs and donning handmade armor and clothes and posing for pictures.

To a regular guest of the hotel, or resident walking down the Boulevard of the Allies or Penn Avenue, it might have been quite a sight to behold, but to everyone else it was just the 10th anniversary of Tekkoshocon.

"Tekkoshocon is a Japanese pop culture convention and it also has a lot of American geek culture thrown in. It was started 10 years ago by a woman named Rebecca Roach in her basement," said Jim Gogal, president of Tekkoshocon Inc. "It's a fan convention done by fans for the fans. We have anime viewings, panels, workshops, industry voice actors and Japanese and nerdcore bands. That's the high level of what we are."

For two years now the convention has been held at the Wyndham Grand after moving from its previous location at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

"We're down about 300 people this year - from nearly 4,000 last year to about 3,700 this year. We expected the shrink because of the return to the Wyndham," said Gogal.

The Westin Hotel, which is connected to the convention center, requires a set number of booked rooms to use the convention center. Gogal said they are working hard to return there since enough rooms were booked at the Wyndham this year to meet that requirement.

Still, Gogal said the biggest challenge remains being able to raise the funds to afford it.

"Last year we brought in a decent amount of money for the convention to operate, but this year we're looking to just break even. We still have Sangawa Project and KuroKiiro Festival to go later this year to raise money," said Gogal.

Those two events are designed to be low cost but bring in high revenue, Gogal said. Sangawa runs in July, and KuroKiiro runs in November. Both are smaller events that strip away a lot of normal convention staples and offer something more flexible to fans, he said.

"In this economy we can't rely on growth, so we have to rely on these smaller, feeder shows for our income. We also have Tekko Kennywood Day. Otherwise, we'd have to raise badge prices for Tekko to the point where no one would come," said Gogal.

While Gogal and staff are striving to raise money to put on a great show for the fans, they also are bringing income to the city of Pittsburgh.

"I know that last year we paid $80,000 in tax revenue to the city and I'm sure this year is the same. That's not including the local business sales that boost when we come. McDonald's down the road loves us," said Gogal.

He's right. Walk to any business in the surrounding blocks of the convention and there is sure to be a long line of convention attendees, braving the streets and storefronts in their costumes.

Equally as crowded are the artist and dealer booths within the convention, with everyone purchasing plush toys, model figurines, DVDs, homemade jewelry and trinkets and more.

Kevin Bolk of Interrobang Studios, who was offering original comic creations and games, said that conventions are his main source of income throughout the year.

"We mostly stick to the East Coast, but we're hoping to expand west the way things have been going," said Bolk.

Jesse Forte, owner of Kyoto Anime, has been bringing his business to Tekkoshocon since 2005. Based out of upstate New York, he said this is one his better shows in terms of revenue.

"Percentage wise, it's astronomically higher at a convention in terms of sales than a typical weekend online or in the store, so it's very beneficial to be here," said Forte.

This year was also the first time Tekkoshocon ran for five days, featuring an off-site day at a local theater on Wednesday for fans to meet up and opening at the hotel on Thursday for normal convention activities.

"Wednesday was all about working with the community and cost next to nothing and because we booked so many rooms the hotel gave us our Thursday rate for very cheap. We figured why not and we didn't have to raise the ticket costs," said Gogal.

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