Park Design Considerations, When Vendors are Also Investors

While I believe it differs little from a shopping mall lease agreement, the agreement between Vendors and Renaissance Festival Management involves the Vendor building and maintaining a structure on the Festival’s property, then paying a show fee to vend from that building during the event. (Mall leases involve Lessors paying for their own “build-out”; then paying rent for that space.)

This makes for an interesting dynamic, where the vendors who “own” their buildings share the responsibility of park maintenance where their buildings are concerned. Part of their agreement with the Festival is that they will maintain the building according to park wishes. However, Vendors are expected to take initiative in building maintenance for the betterment of the park.

In the vendor mix are shops referred to as Temporaries, or Temp Booths. These vendors are commonly dissed by shop owners as folks who don’t make real investments in the parks. However, some businesses not only fit better conceptually in a tent, they add a theatrical element to the lanes that is necessary for the park theme. It is difficult to tell the difference between a tent-user who is in a tent because it works best for the theme, and a tent-user who doesn’t want to sink money into someone else’s real estate.

Landscaping by the carnival company at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 2013

Part of the disquiet that building owners have toward tent users, is related to the shared responsibility of park maintenance. How can Festival Management share the park beautification responsibilities with tent users, so that building owners do not feel unfairly targeted when told to repaint or landscape their booths? We can look to State Fairs for guidance. They are making entertainment spaces out of parking lots and roads, managing to import enough large plants to create lavish break spaces that only last a few weeks. I strongly doubt that the carnival company chooses to buy all of those lush plants on their own. They buy the plants because they want to land the contract with the state fair next year.

There is another way to get value for the building owners. (Let’s call them co-investors.) Temporary booths are most often located as a 360*. In other words, they are not on a booth line, but out in the middle of a lane somewhere. These temporary booths can and should be used as bumpers. Think of a pinball game. Now think of permanent shops as the targets where points are earned. Placement of temporary booths should benefit the folks who are sharing the responsibilities of park maintenance. Park layouts with cul-de-sacs necessitate bumpers, but they have value in other situations as well.  

When a group of neighboring shops communicate that their income or traffic is diminished (or their numbers reflect it to management in the case of shows with a percentage-based fee), relocation of the pinball bumpers can be used to try and redirect traffic to that underserved area. (As an aside, for Vendor Coordinators who might have to deal with push-back from 360* vendors who could get moved around a lot … those Vendors could always choose to invest in the show and have a permanent location.)

Carrying the pinball metaphor further, if everyone is doing their job correctly, Guests (the pinballs) are so entertained that they are bounced from park element to park element without realizing that park design and entertainment are steering their path. Perhaps we can consider the entertainment schedule as the flippers.

What are other pinball machine metaphors we can claim? Give us your suggestions in the comments for this post. We’d love to carry this discussion further.

By Rhonni

Rhonni is a blissciplined serial entrepreneur, who has crafted a life in which she is surrounded by people who do what they love. She curates and you can see the internet version of her business card at


  1. Although similar, there are some major differences between a mall lease and a festival lease. The first and most noticeable difference is that a mall will offer multi year contracts for the investments made, a festival will not. Secondly, Festivals define your building as ‘personal property’, whereas the lease space in a mall is real property, and, as pointed out in a previous article, has tangible fiscal value in the eyes of a bank or investment firm. A festival booth, regardless of the expense, has no such value.

    I personally feel that the dynamic of booth owners ‘dissing’ temp booths is relatively new and not wide spread. It is some what of a straw man. Unfortunately some festivals have bought into the idea and have justified raising the fees of those who own tents.

    When you consider that most tents that are permanent (i.e. allowed by the festival on more than a ‘visiting’ basis) are services, the increase in fee is especially hard, in that they can only generate a fixed amount of revenue. A hair braider, face painter, prognosticator or henna tent cannot make a ‘big’ sale. Their income is limited to the number of braids, fortunes, or faces that they can paint in a day.

    In my own experience, I’ve found that the amount of money spent by a vendor on yearly maintenance has little to do with the permanence of the booth, and a lot to do with how much money the show generates compared to other shows, and how well the vendor understands that presentation is as important as product. I know many tent owners that spend more each year on upgrades, plants, floors, benches, etc. than those who own hard booths.

    I would also point out that those who have a hard booth often live in them and pay less money to a festival to live there than those who sell from a tent and pay more to live in a campground.

    Temp booths are a boon to a festival if used correctly. They are great to experiment with shop lines, lines of site, and traffic flow, or, as Rhonni put it, the pin ball effect.

    Being services, they not only serve as ‘bumpers’ but actually work best as ‘crowd gatherers’ or stop signs. When a person from a group of patrons stops to have the service performed, the rest of the group hangs out, and usually visits the surrounding shops. A service performed can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Those who are waiting for the person spend a lot of time (and hopefully money) in the neighborhood. I’ve seen this dynamic work many times, and am always happy to see a service across from me when doing a show.

    1. Al,
      Thanks for the clarification on the differences between Festival contracts and mall leases. I’ve had dozens of one, and none of the other.

      We are in complete agreement that temporary booths should be used by the festival … and that there is a correct way to do so. Too often I see them used simply to gather more entry fees, when they can have marvelous impacts on the traffic flow when considered carefully. As I said in the article, some things simply work better from a tent, both thematically and structurally. All of the examples that come to mind are services. However, Adelia had a great point in another comment, about the existence of temporaries as a way for Crafters to try out a show before investing.

      It is also possible that the gripes of permanent booth owners about this issue are loudest on years when they’ve been given extensive (and most likely well-needed) improvement requests from Festival Management. The original intent of this article was to find a way to ease those complaints, and to analyze how best to use and place the shops that are out in the lanes in doing so.

      I’m very glad you joined the conversation!

      As an aside, one of the spring shows in which I participate charges the same amount for camping inside one’s booth as for parking a trailer or motorhome in the campground.


  2. I have been a participant in many Renaissance Festivals over the past 25 years. I have four “permanent” shops that I maintain at my own expense, and I do weekend shows and the two largest shows in the country with handmade gypsy vardos based on authentic historical designs.

    While it is true that booth owners “diss” temporary shop spaces, the opposite can also be true. In a contrast to permanent shop spaces, temporary carts or tents give vendors the opportunity to test a show before making a significant investment. I have witnessed many business failures when over-eager new vendors overspend on buildings that are investments they cannot afford.

    So while it can work for a vendor to have a permanent shop, there are plenty who find the investment to be an albatross and a financial drain in a sluggish economy.

    1. Adelia,
      I agree wholeheartedly with the concept of trying out a show before purchasing a permanent booth. Just yesterday I visited the highly juried and lovely “Festival of the Arts” in Oklahoma City, where I listened to the sad story of the one time a vendor was courted by a crafts coordinator, and invited to sell at a Renaissance Festival. He invested in a booth, only to find that he had a huge amount of push-back from patrons at the show, who felt his hand-made and hand-painted shoes were “too modern”. We were already involved in the sales process, so he wasn’t trying to elicit sympathy; just telling a story. Admittedly, I won’t be wearing my new chartreuse and purple, fake snakeskin Mary-Janes with any of my festival garb, but I love them anyway.

      Thanks for your input. I had forgotten about the convenience of a temporary location for scoping out a festival.


  3. Here’s the issue I have with some of the temporary booths in my sight line at a show where I have a booth: They close in the rain. Wrap up the sides and shut down. They often arrive late and leave early. Compound this with limited to no costuming, anachronistic signage, and the not infrequent cigarette break on the faire-owned bench nearby, a cheap tent that was dingy and used 5 years ago and has never been cleaned or improved and you end up with a hyper-aggravated booth owner with an aggrieved response to every new request for shop improvements, roofing, gardens, repainting, path watering, etc. Year after year, fair management makes those requests yet turns a blind eye to this ‘temporary’ travesty – complaints to management are received as if I’ve offered sour grapes, and direct conversation with the offending vendor is met with surly looks and dismissive flicks of the wrist. And why should they listen to me? They clearly have figured it all out better than I have . . .

    I fully acknowledge that most temps are not like these neighbors, and surely the more permanent participants that have gigs that just work in a freestanding, 360 degree shop are invested in their shows and community. However, it’s those bad apples, like my ‘neighbor’, that spoil the bushel and create those negative perceptions being discussed here.

  4. Cindy, I’ve seen similar temp set-ups ( and also some hard booths) at certain shows that fit your descriptions. To me, this is not due to the fact that it is a temp booth, but instead due to poor management from the festival. To me the ‘bad apple’ is not the vendor, it’s the festival for allowing such negative and slovenly behavior to have a shop at their show, and for not responding to repeated requests from reliable vendors to address the problem.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.