TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson's annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase is officially underway.
The Norcross-Madagascar Mineral show opened its doors on Friday, Jan. 19 and others will follow suit in the next week.
This will be the biggest show event in its 70 years. There are 47 shows this year up from 40 a year ago. And many of the shows are expanding, including Madagascar Minerals.
"We bought the building across the street," said Manager Carolyn Cary. "We now have four sites in which to display."
The show doubled its space at the Kino SportsComplex, added a new larger parking lot tent and has a tent at the Hotel City Center near downtown.
But it's the site at 201 West Lester near Oracle Road that's home, a permanent home.
"We sell here year around," she said, surrounded by agate plaques, druzy agate, petrified wood, which is a specialty and dozens of ornate skulls hard carved from amethyst. "Each one is unique."
The trend for Gem Show operators in 2018 seems to be expansion and relocation to the Oracle Road Gem Corridor.
"We bought this place and l've made my home here," said Bill Besse, as he unpacked boxes at the new show location on Oracle, south of Gr ant. He's been coming to the Gem Show since 1976.
'This place' is the old abandoned La Fuente Restaurant that closed in 2014.
Rather than becoming a blighted site, it's now the home of the La Fuente Gem Show, or something like that. They will keep the name and decor.
"Everybody knows the pink building," Besse said.
It's just one of the many new permanent locations along Oracle Road, in what is now being called the Oracle Road Gem Corridor.
It makes economic sense for the shows to set up permanent residence in Tucson rather than come in for a couple of weeks and leave town.
"It was basically Tucson one week," Besse said. "Then it was Tucson two weeks."
Now he says it's a month and beyond. And the fact he "retired" to Green Valley makes it a perfect fit.
It may finally put to rest the rumors of past years that the Gem Shows would pull up stakes and more to Denver or to Las Vegas.
"For 20 years you always heard the Gem Show's going to end, they're going to stop it," said Cary. "Now I don't think they could."
And there are millions of reasons as to why the Gem Show is likely here to stay. The economic impact is growing.
"In 2014, it was $120 million and that was with 40 shows," said Dan Gibson, Director of Communications for Visit Tucson. This year there will be 47 shows so you "could extrapolate it's in the $150 million direct impact range."
Airbnb by the way, has leased more than a thousand rooms, mainly it's thought, for this year's Gem Show six week run.