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Christmas Connection kicks off the return of the I-X Center

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Posted at 11:55 AM, Nov 19, 2021

CLEVELAND — For the first time since it shut down last year, people are headed back to the I-X Center this weekend.

The newly revived Christmas Connection show kicks off Friday. From staffing to food and decorations, event organizers and I-X Center officials say this is just the start of finding a game plan for how events will run at the venue.

The 2.2 million-square-foot event center has been dark since March of 2020 after the decision was made to close the space, ending 35-years of business.

Now the venue’s management, including marketing and sales director Claire Anter, are leading the charge to reopen and staff the I-X Center, beginning with the downsized version of Christmas Connection this weekend.

“Just before the pandemic, we were set up to do the piston-powered Auto-Rama, the show floor - everyone was moving in and then we made the call to close the close the doors,” Anter said. “No one ever thought that the center was going to close down, me included. And when that happened, it was crushing. But we are bringing the space back to life.”

Organizers like Gina Gumina say the Christmas Connection is drawing more than 300 vendors from 38 states, including Ohio. While it may be down from the 700 vendors the event usually attracts, it’s a Christmas miracle to have the event back and the I-X Center reopened.

“To be honest, last year at this time, I cried every day knowing that Christmas connection should have been going on. It was tough,” Gumina said. “You know, we're a big family here. I've been doing these (events) 11 years and some of the staff is brought back from the IX-Center and we're all just so excited to be together.”

Vendors will be selling homemade goods in hopes of helping their local businesses rebound financially from the COVID-19 Pandemic. They’re also reminding shoppers there’s no supply chain or shipping issues at the event, making it a one-stop-shop for all your holiday shopping.

“The show is not all Christmas items to purchase. We have many things for men, women, girls, kit, boys, sports enthusiasts. We have items for everyone,” Gumina said. “You can find something under here and one roof. Just think it's like shopping three hundred stores under one roof. It's just awesome.”

There will also be live entertainment, including the beloved Mr. Jingeling making his return to Northeast Ohio.

Dining options will be expanded with food trucks inside the venue. Masks are not required but encouraged if you’re unvaccinated.

Obviously, we are still conscious of what's happening in the world. So, we want to make sure that people know that they are safe within our space,” Anter said. “The good thing is Purell is now our neighbor, so you'll definitely see a great amount of hand sanitizers all around the venue.”

Planning is already underway to bring more I-X Center staples back to the event space, including the Boat Show and the Cleveland Auto Show.

“We kind of are going to take a breath after this weekend. We're going to pow-wow and look what our needs are for those 20-22 shows that are coming up, they're right around the corner,” Anter said. “I know at some point we're going to need more people in this building and it's going to be exciting to be up and operating.”

The show starts Friday and runs through Sunday. Active and retired members of the military as well as first responders will be able to utilize free admission on Sunday.

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