The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) is an organization made up of independent retailers, manufacturers and sales representatives within the specialty toy industry. In their own words, “ASTRA is a dedicated community of professionals committed to providing children with healthy, quality play materials that have high play value.”
The ASTRA community came together at the Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC) for their 2021 Marketplace & Academy on August 5-8, 2021. Approximately 1,500 attendees were on hand to meet in person after their 2020 event was postponed as a casualty of the pandemic. This was the first citywide convention Minneapolis has hosted since before the start of the pandemic in early 2020. It was encouraging to see event, food service and security staff working to attend to the needs of our ASTRA guests at the MCC.
During our pre-convention meeting, Sue Warfield, president of ASTRA, expressed her appreciation for the partnership with the city and the MCC as accommodations were made to reschedule their event from 2020. It is worth noting that one of Sue’s early jobs was as a retail professional with Dayton’s. Since joining ASTRA, she has served in other staff capacities and as the organization’s board chair before becoming its CEO in 2020. Sue and her husband reside in Ely.
Those of us who have children in our lives would have been enthralled by ASTRA’s trade show floor replete with the latest toys and games. This trade show is the marketplace where distributors and manufacturers ensure that the right toys are on the shelves for the upcoming holiday season. I had the opportunity to chat with some of ASTRA’s exhibitors. Two that I spoke to representing a toy distributor based in Madison, Wis., said they were happy to be meeting in person and were impressed with the easy navigation of our downtown, particularly our skyways. An exhibitor representing a German company was also glad to be meeting with customers in person. He was pleased with the layout of the trade show floor in the MCC. ASTRA’s success reinforces the need for in-person events to promote commerce across many industries.
We will have several other opportunities to host large gatherings during the remainder of this calendar year. We have benefited from the ASTRA experience as we slowly get back to a regular cadence of hosting major events. Next year promises to be a very strong year for major conventions in Minneapolis, possibly rivaling the success we experienced in 2019. Check out the partial list of 2022 events here.
MCC Executive Director Jeff Johnson put the significance of hosting ASTRA in perspective: “As hospitality professionals, we love to serve. ASTRA provided us the needed fix for this desire with our first national trade show event in many months. Our building and staff were ready, and what we found was a wonderful group of people in ASTRA that were patient and committed to building relationships in our building. It was wonderful to serve again.”