Minicon Proves There’s Life after Bloomington

Minicon 53, which was held March 30 through April 1, 2018, was especially notable in two ways. First, it was the 50th anniversary of the first convention (there were two in 1971 and two in 1974, which is why we’re on convention 53). And second, it saw the convention leave the DoubleTree Bloomington, otherwise known as the Radishtree for its past as a Radisson and a Sheraton, for the DoubleTree Park Place in St. Louis Park. The guests of honor this year included author and fellow Twin Cities Geek contributor Lyda Morehouse, author Rachel Swirsky, and, posthumously, artist Jon Arfstrom.

The registration table and Minicon Banner

Registration, early on Friday

Minicon has become my “kid con,” where the main focus for the weekend is on what interests my daughter, meaning that most of my time is spent partaking in the excellently executed children’s programming in the Rumpus Room. The biggest part of her weekend was spent happily playing with the puppet stage, though she did take time to build a s’more monster (and watch it be immolated), get her hair braided, and add to her Hermione costume by modifying a stuffed bear into Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks. The highlight of her convention was likely the egg hunt on Easter Sunday morning, where she and a number of the other kids first hunted eggs and then thoughtfully traded their contents among themselves.

A girl holds an egg she has just found

Victory in the egg hunt.

I should note that the Rumpus Room also contained a number of other craft and science-based activities, including creating clothespin fairies and building your own microscope, so if a child wasn’t interested in one activity, chances are they would find something else. Teens did have their own space as well, but the exact goings-on were restricted to participants of the correct age.

A S'more monster being burned

The dangerous, wild s’more monster, mid-immolation

Minicon tends to be a more relaxed convention than others in the area. Sometimes this translates into information not being available before the convention (at least without emailing and asking), but overall, I see it more of a positive. In the Rumpus Room, for example, kids are perfectly free to do their own thing if they don’t feel interested in participating in the current activity. Elsewhere in the convention space, attendees are more likely to be ambling or chatting than rushing from place to place, something that is assisted by the 30-minute breaks in between panels.

Rachel Swirsky and Lyda Morehouse talk as three other panelists and the audience listen

Guests of honor Rachel Swirsky and Lyda Morehouse debate the important question of the true identity of Chuck Tingle.

Relaxed doesn’t mean boring, though. Subjects for the scheduled panels included various themes found in speculative works, thoughts on astronomy and space exploration, readings by various authors (including them another TCG contributor, Rob Callahan), and things that were just plain fun. The music room held 10 concerts, many of them to a full room, and also provided an instrument “petting zoo” where kids and teens were able to try out different musical instruments.

The two members of Sistertree in concert

SisterTree played to a crowd that was reluctant to let them stop.

The unique mainstays of the convention were present as well. The Medallion Hunt, which involves following clues to a number of 1973 pennies (which can then be exchanged for prizes), was back again. The Bozo Bus Tribune, the convention news publication that provides up-to-date information and anecdotes about the convention along with the Medallion Hunt clues and updates, published four articles at the con. The bar was open for business, featuring some great homebrew.

Issues of the Bozo Bus Tribune from 2000 and 2002

Back issues of the Bozo Bus Tribune, one edited by Dave Romm, a longtime Minicon fixture and a cofounder of the Tribune. Romm was memorialized at this convention after his unexpected passing in September.

In a time when there’s been discussion of a current “convention bubble” that is due to explode as the number of conventions becomes unsustainable, it’s easy to think of Minicon as an anomaly—or should that be con-nomaly? (Note: if there’s not already a convention called ConNomaly, there really needs to be.) According the Minnesota Science Fiction Society’s history of Minicon, the convention’s membership was 60 people its first year, rose to a peak in the mid-3,000s for a number of years in the 1990s, and has been steadily in the 500 to 600 range for most of the past few years. The move to a new venue doesn’t seem to have too much of an impact on attendance—official attendance count was 539 in 2018, compared to 574 in 2017.

The downside of the new venue is that it’s a little less accessible than the Bloomington DoubleTree. The terraced layout of the pool and atrium area make for a bit of a roundabout path for anyone who would need to use an elevator to move from floor to floor. Additionally, the overflow gaming area was accessible only by a short flight of stairs.

However, the hotel has a number of positives. The location makes it very easy to leave the hotel for various supplies without needing to repark. Taste of India (which made for a delicious Saturday lunch) is a very short walk away, and the West End shopping and dining area is across the street. Even a Costco and a Cub Foods are within a block or two.

Signs indicating the locations of the bar and consuite

Two of the most important signs at Minicon.

The openness of the atrium creates a wonderful space, and even though the con suite is now on the 14th floor of the hotel, that gives an opportunity to take in a wonderful view of downtown Minneapolis. The pool was a hit with my daughter, and the hotel restaurant offered a delicious morning brunch on Sunday.

We look forward to heading back to Minicon next year, and since the convention has had a chance to evaluate how things went in the new space, it should be even better!

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