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Thousands of people are headed to Tucson for the annual gem show

This is a time of year when we often talk about big events coming to the Phoenix area — think the Super Bowl or Phoenix Open.

But, lovers of gems, minerals, jewelry, space rocks and all sorts of other items like that are flocking to Tucson now for a series of shows that culminates with the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in about a week and a half. City officials expect tens of thousands of visitors over the course of the events.

The Show spoke with Jim Nintzel, a member of the Report for America corps serving as government and political impact reporter for the online Tucson Sentinel, for more.

Interview highlights

So like for, for folks who haven't been to Tucson or in Tucson during sort of this time of year when there's all sorts of different events, like what is it like for in, in, in Tucson right now?

JIM NINTZEL: Well, we, we are getting our rocks on down here in Tucson. You know, it is, it is the busiest tourist time of the year. You know, they, they, the tourism folks estimate we've got 65,000 people from around the world coming to town and, you know, I can't, I can't say I've counted them all but it seems like a reasonable estimate. If you go downtown, It's a lot trickier to get a, a table for dinner or, you know, it, it's just very busy downtown right now. And it's, it's building because this is, this is really just the start of it.

We have, I think, more than three dozen shows. I mean, that, that's one of the popular misunderstandings. It's, it's, it's not just one show. It's, it's a, it's more than three dozen of them and, and they, and they run for about three weeks and there's an estimated 4,000 dealers from around the nation and around the world who are, who will be here over that period. So, yeah, you really can find, you know, dinosaur bones or meteorites or minerals or precious stones or, you know, magic rings that will turn you invisible. I mean, it's, it's really an astonishing astonishing time to be in Tucson if this is your, your jam.

Well, so, like do, do the shows, each of the individual shows like, do they tend to have a different focus or are they all kind of like just different versions of the same kind of thing?

NINTZEL: Well, you know, it's, it's all kinds of, because you know, some people specialize in fossils, some specialize in the, in the meteorites. You know, there's, there's such a wide range of, of interests in this kind of thing, you know, that some people are really jazzed by, you know, collecting a, a geode of some kind, you know, so lots of jewelry. So people are interested in that. Lots of art from around the world that kind of falls within the kind of very wide rubric of, of gem minerals and fossils. So, yeah, I think it's, it's there's, there's something for everyone if, if this is your thing.

I guess we, we probably also need to talk about sort of the granddaddy of them. All right, the Tucson Gem and Mineral show, which as you pointed out is sort of what a lot of people I think mistakenly assume that this all is that is, that is a really huge thing at downtown, at the Tucson Convention Center. That's sort of the, the finale of, of the whole, the whole exercise here?

NINTZEL: Pretty much, you know. Right now you're, you're seeing shows set up in hotels and casinos and giant tents around town. But what you'll, you'll see happen, the conclusion of it all is is Feb. 8 through the 11 at the Tucson Convention Center. And the Gem and Minerals Show was launched way back in, in 1955. So it's been around for a really long time and it has grown obviously over the years. But yeah, this little little group called the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society came together right after World War II. And eventually, about 10 years later said, hey, let's put on a show and, and now we have this massive gathering in Tucson annually. So it's, it's really been a remarkable success story. And I think rock hounds from across the globe really say, hey, Tucson's the to be this time of the year. As do many other people, let's face it.

Yeah. No, of course. I mean, so like does it seem as though that the, the sort of the main show was that sort of the draw for some of the other ones that over time sort of spread it out over multiple weeks as opposed to just a few days?

NINTZEL: Yeah, I, I think the whole gem and mineral business is, is, you know, there's a lot of money to be made in this biz. And so as more and more people started coming to the, the main show, other people were like, oh, you know what, I'll do my own little side show and, and it just really snowballed from there to, to the point where we are now and you know, there's always been concern that, oh, they're, they're not gonna come back to Tucson. But, you know, there's a lot of talk about that like 15-20 years ago, but Tucson's done a, a pretty astonishing job of revitalizing its downtown, a lot more hotel space in the downtown area as well.

So I think that's really, I, I think folks who are coming here for the gem show really are getting a better experience. And if you're up in Phoenix and want to drive down for a day, there's plenty to do. If you just want to get off I-10 in the downtown area, you can park your car, you can ride our little street car around, visit our restaurants and, and, you know, check out, all the, all the little rocks for sale around town right now.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.