Several Scaly Scallywags Social Distance At Seventh Annual Repticon FIRexpo
by James Coulter
Despite the threat of COVID-19, countless lizards, snakes, turtles and other reptiles scampered and slithered over to the RP Funding Center in Lakeland last weekend for the seventh annual Repticon FIRexpo.
Several dozen vendors congregated within the convention center with cages filled with various reptiles, ranging from the common turtle or lizard, to the exotic bearded dragon. Other animals such as gerbils, hedgehogs, and even dogs and cats were also showcased. Also offered were reptile-related merchandise from cages to pet food.
To help accommodate the event for these uncertain times, social distancing was enforced and face masks were required for entry into the event. Even with the threat of COVID-19 still looming, the three-day event drew in hundreds of visitors and vendors.
Family Reptiles, a local reptile shop in Lakeland, has been a sponsor of the event for many years. As with last year, they are excited to have the annual reptile show return to their hometown, especially despite the current pandemic.
“We were nervous that things may have been canceled, but due to a lot of safety precautions, we have animals and supplies for reptile lovers of Central Florida, and we are glad to be back,” said owner, Scott Wisneski. “Maybe we don’t have as many vendors or guests. But it is like reopening the community again. It will take time, and we are here to support those who came out.”
Their store, as with many local businesses, has also struggled through the recent months due to the COVID-19 crisis. They are glad that an event such as Repticon FIRexpo was able to be hosted again, and people were able to attend, despite current circumstances, as it is a sign that things are slightly improving.
“I have been locked down myself, so to get back into the shows and public has been good,” he said. “We appreciate everyone’s support and look good supporting the community.”
Pinellas County Reptiles, a vendor from Largo, also attended this weekend’s event. The reptile store attends many events hosted by Repticon every weekend in various cities.
Being able to attend these shows allows them to meet up with fellow reptile enthusiasts and showcase their reptiles, including their ball pythons. They were especially happy to attend the event in Lakeland, even despite current circumstances.
“We just enjoy meeting all the new customers,” said Angie Mellis, owner of Pinellas County Reptiles. “It is decent considering what is going on in the world right now. Sometimes it is slow, it is not quite what it used to be, but it is doing well.”
This year’s event more than met initial expectations, with countless guests and vendors arriving to share their love of reptiles. Summer Westmoreland, Show Manager, loves events such as this for their sense of camaraderie, and she loved how it managed to maintain their community this past weekend.
“Everybody is super happy to come out,” she said. “I love seeing people who have not seen anything in a while. [It’s] pretty hot because once everything calms down, we want to go back to the way things used to be, and we are expecting more growth out of it.”
For more information about Repticon, visit their website at: https://repticon.com/