World Meeting of Families logoFor a World Meeting of Families congress that has gone smoothly so far, a glitch arose late in the day Sept. 24.

During the late Thursday afternoon breakout sessions, most of the 320 vendors in the exhibit hall of the Pennsylvania Convention Center unexpectedly started to break down their tables and booths.

World Meeting officials informed the unhappy vendors that even though they were under contract to display their wares until 1 p.m. Friday, the City of Philadelphia would begin closing parking garages in Friday morning ahead of Pope Francis’ scheduled arrival in the city on Saturday. 

The vendors were told they would need to vacate the “Marketplace” area consisting of two very large exhibit halls at the convention center by 10 a.m. Friday. Therefore, the vendors began packing up Thursday evening.

Vendors and representatives of religious organizations including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and its various affiliates, the Knights of Columbus, EWTN, Catholic publishers, numerous religious orders, shrines, lay organizations and food outlets had paid up to $8,000, according to some vendors, to be present in the hall.

The exhibitors and staff of the World Meeting apparently had not been informed by city officials or police prior to the action. 

Parking is restricted throughout certain zones in the city during the papal visit, but neither the vendors — many of whom had arrived from out of town — nor World Meeting officials had apparently been informed by city officials prior to Thursday’s action.

In addition, their contracts had not been altered to reflect the parking policy prior to the start of the event on Tuesday, even though the restrictions on street parking had been circulated in local media.

The change was apparently communicated by small slips of paper given to vendors around 3:30 p.m.

Vendors running their booths in the Marketplace responded by executing what one bystander described as “a fire sale,” with offerings of books and other wares being sold at steep discounts. 

The exhibits, including those with large and elaborate designs, were being haphazardly torn down in an effort to comply in a hurried manner with directives by convention center staff, who made announcements over the public address system and ushered patrons out of the hall.

Doors to the hall were closed at 6 p.m., the scheduled closing time for the day. 

Some vendors expressed frustration and anger. “We’re really going to lose a lot of money,” said a woman, who did not wish to be named, operating the booth at Seven Gifts, a Catholic bookstore and devotional outlet. “Say a prayer for us when you leave, because we really took a loss.”