Pop culture convention makes Fort Wayne debut

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PopCon, a celebration of all things pop culture, made its debut at the Grand Wayne Convention Center Dec. 29-30.

The two-day event, billed as “a safe, fun, family-friendly event that is welcoming and supportive of all people, with or without costumes” featured more than 70 vendors, a laser tag room, board game demonstrations and panels on various fan topics.

Ronnie Seymour, of Fort Wayne, and his daughter Naomi, 3, wore matching shirts from “The Incredibles” animated movie series to the convention. Seymour said he brought his toddler to PopCon so that he could introduce her to the world of comic books, video games and cosplay.

“She’s really into princesses, dinosaurs, unicorns,” he said.

According to Kris Keys, one of the convention’s founders, that’s what the event is all about – coming together and celebrating what you enjoy.

“How it got started and what it’s built around is (the question): ‘How do we make people feel comfortable being who they want to be in a safe environment and just get to enjoy what they enjoy?’” Keys said.

PopCon was founded five years ago in Indianapolis. The decision to expand PopCon to Fort Wayne was based on the exciting things happening here, he said.

“There’s a lot of good things going on there. They’ve really done a lot to make the city a lot better,” Keys said in a promotional video to announce the expansion.

When people visit a city for a convention, they want things to do outside of the convention space – restaurants, shopping, etc., he said.

On Saturday, Keys said he and the other organizers tried not to have any expectations about how many tickets the event would sell.

“We obviously want to do well enough that we can do it again,” he said.

On the afternoon of the first day of the event, he said that about 1,500 people had come through the doors. It’s a smaller scale than the 30,000 people that PopCon Indy attracts each year, but Keys said that’s not unusual for an event’s first year.

It’s too soon to say if PopCon will return to Fort Wayne next year, he said, but he sees a huge potential for growth.

“(With Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Detroit only a few hours away), this has the potential to be a large regional show,” he said.

This year, people traveled from as far away as Ontario, Canada, and Washington, D.C., to attend PopCon in Fort Wayne.

That said, Keys said he would still like to see more local support.

“As of right now, we have more ticket sales outside of Fort Wayne than we do inside of Fort Wayne,” he said.

Local business owner Dawn Studebaker participated in PopCon. She and her husband, Scott, own the Game Annex, a store and hangout on Illinois Road in Fort Wayne that sells hobby games and provides a place for gamers to play them.

“I wanted to make sure that Fort Wayne was taken seriously when it comes to our pop culture because we have a really large nerd fandom,” she said.

In the vendor hall, they introduced people to new board games and let them try them out. As a business owner, the highlight of participating in an event like PopCon is showing people what Fort Wayne has to offer, she said.