Rolex merchants prepare for WEG

Along with the horses, riders and crowds at the Kentucky Horse Park this week, merchants are a major part of the landscape at the Rolex Three-Day Event.

Booths inside the tin-roofed Trade Fair building and rows of white tents offer everything from custom saddles and shoes to crafts and high-end jewelry.

And even before noon on Thursday, the first day of the event, shoppers were browsing, trying on riding boots and hats, and carrying bags sporting the names of stores from all over the United States and Europe.

For many of the merchants, this week is something of a retail trial run before the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games next year.

Of the 180 or so businesses at Rolex, 44 have put down $2,500 deposits for space at the Games, according to Terry Johnson, a spokesman for the Games. The total price for a vendor space will range from $10,000 to $20,000.

Johnson anticipates that WEG will have 250 to 300 vendors. Retailers for the Games will be based at several spots around the park.

Hanna Hildmann, sales manager for Sport Innovations, a Connecticut-based company, answered questions about magnetic and massage therapy products, including blankets "for muscle spasms and back pain."

She'll be back, she said, for the 2010 Games, and she estimated that she'll devote "about a month" to the event, counting travel time, booth setup and packing up for the trip home.

But she expects the effort to be worth it. "I think it's going to draw a more high-end crowd," she said of the Games. "They're expecting a lot of high-end clothing companies and tack companies."

New this year to the Three-Day Event was Equipment of Culture, makers of ceramic tile and mosaics. Owners Clark Moss and his partner, Richard Moss, of Ocala, Fla., offer merchandise with prices ranging from $30 for a single painted tile to $1,200 and up for a baroque-style horse mosaic.

"I'll be here — and what an opportunity to get my product out," said Clark Moss, who plans to return for Rolex next year and the 2010 Games. "I signed up in December."

Julie Mickler of Bob Mickler's, a Lexington riding-apparel store co-founded by her father in 1949, says her business has been a part of every Three-Day Event at the Horse Park since 1977.

"There were five of us," she said of the shops that first year, "and we were in a little lean-to."

And despite "the 16 days and 12-hour days" that will come with being at the Games, the shop will be back and has already paid the deposit for the Games.

She said it's a chance that's just too good to pass up.

"We want to support the community," Mickler said. "We want to support the Games, and we want to have an international presence."

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