The Passion of Kristie Gonsalves
by Mary Jasch
A particular passion of Kristie Gonsalves is producing flower shows. She is the solo architect of the Connecticut Flower & Garden Show, her pride and joy, that opens at the Hartford Convention Center on February 21, 2019. Single-handedly, Kristie does it all from planning, booking vendors and speakers for the 29 different seminars, charting floor plans, and every other detail no matter the size or nature.
“I grew up in the business,” she says. “My dad started producing shows in the ‘60s – all different types – concerts, home and garden, boat, rodeos. They were very diverse.”
She graduated college in ‘92 with a marketing/advertising degree, then bought part of her dad’s business in 2001 as North East Expos and produces the CT Flower and Garden Show, a Fine Art & Craft Show, Hunting & Fishing, and Kids shows. Her brother bought the RV show as North East Productions.
It’s not plants that makes Kristie want to produce events; it’s sinking her teeth, brain and time into nine months of minutia, risk and grand scale production for several large shows at a time. “It’s a ton of work. I enjoy my job.” A variety of shows offers her the opportunity to meet and get to know people from different milieus: from horticulturists to fishermen, hunters, artists, farmers and famous authors.
To create an entire show by herself requires a lot of organization. “Chance favors the prepared mind,” she quotes Louis Pasteur. “It’s one reason I don’t have employees. They just don’t understand it.” Every morning for three months before the flower show, she puts the kids on the bus, goes to the office, comes home, gets the kids, takes them home, makes dinner, then gets to work at her home office.
Even now, in January, she is already planning the 2020 flower show. She plans all events at least 18 months ahead, working 14 hours a day, seven days a week and “rests” in April and May with just four hours work a day. Especially the Flower Show, her biggest event. “It’s so time restricted. There are so many details. My kids know everything has to be right on schedule with no extra time with me.
“It’s fun and exciting! My favorite time is when I open the doors on the first day. My exhibitors and Federated Garden Club work very hard to create what the show is to the attendees. I wouldn’t have a show without them. It’s also very stressful. Some days you get a letdown and you wonder if it’s all worth it. But to have a tradition – my family has produced a show for 38 years. I can’t let those people down – the vendors. 98 percent of my clients are small local Mom and Pop businesses, not corporations.”
Kristie juries the show, keeping it strictly floral- and garden-related. “I try very hard to keep it a quality show. My attendees pay $18 to come in. I want to bring them what they want to see.”
This year’s show sports 375 vendors, 27 display gardens, the Federated Garden Club of Connecticut standard flower show and three rooms of 29 seminars to choose from. Kristie has a nice return ration of vendors, though not all come back. Like garden clubs, gardeners and nurseries, exhibitors are ageing. But some still participate, such as the 80-year-old woman who sells her own knitted hats decorated with fruit and floral goodies. Another, Ballek’s Garden Center, has been with her forever. Now their third-generation grandchildren do the show. “It’s fun. I get to know the families.”
“I’m proud of my show. I work hard. The garden exhibitors put so much cost into their gardens. They are all small families. We honor the Best in Show. My kids hand the awards to the winners’ kids. They go through as much work as I do. First prize is $5,000.”
In this day of vast online opinion, the games are not always fun. Mishaps occur that are out of anyone’s control like the year Kristie’s 3,000 feet of sod she was growing for the show froze and almost died when her greenhouse furnace conked out. She saved the crop by hiring eight men to make it well again. And when the city’s parking garage fills and there’s nowhere to park! (Take the Rollin’ Garden Party Bus!) People purge and “in today’s society, it’s harder to deal with social media. It’s hard when someone makes a negative comment because they have no idea.”
So what’s her stress release? Farming. She grows hay, maple syrup and eggs. “That’s how I compensate. I have 100 chickens. I sell eggs. My animals are good listeners. They don’t complain about hot dog prices.”
Visit the CT Flower & Garden Show: here.
Take the Rollin' Garden Party Bus to the Show here.
All photos courtesy of Laura Soll Public Relations, LLC
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published January 08, 2019