55+ Expo sells out for 14th straight year

The popular cooking demonstrations attracted a full house at the Annual 55+ Expo at Dover Downs last year.
The popular cooking demonstrations attracted a full house at the Annual 55+ Expo at Dover Downs last year.

By Kathy Canavan

The largest 55+ event in the Middle Atlantic region is happening tomorrow in Dover. Busloads of out-of-state visitors will check into Dover Downs tonight, and many will line up before the Annual 55+ Expo opens at 9 a.m.

The expo, sponsored by the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, has been sold out for 14 years. It is free to its 5,000 visitors, but 100 exhibitors pay $350 to $900 for booths.

The chamber has concocted a perfect formula for businesses and visitors:

  • It’s the high attendance and the region’s demographics that make the expo a good bet for companies marketing to older people. The percentage of Kent Countians 62 or older jumped from 14 percent in 2000 to 17.5 percent in 2013, and the percentage of Delawareans in that age group rose from 17.9 percent to 18.5. Add to that older residents looking to retire here from high-cost areas such as New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland.
  • The short list of draws for visitors include master gardeners, free blood pressure checks, lower-extremity arterial disease screenings, a diabetes wellness center, information on sleep disorders, low-impact aerobics classes from the Dover YMCA, cooking shows with Dover Downs chefs, live entertainment from the Modern

Maturity Center’s Steppin’ Seniors, and a George Burns lookalike who wanders the room sharing his stories about Gracie.

Expo-goers are a mix of out-of-staters weighing moving here and Delawareans who want a free fun day out and a chance to window-shop for the services they need.

Vendors tend to be the usuals for a boomer event — financial advisers, medical professionals, insurance agents, pet groomers, home health care providers, and home improvement companies.

But it’s that list of activities that keep the expo from being merely a mini-mall.

Cristal Brenneman, director of special events for the chamber, said the popular health screenings often tip off expo visitors to health problems. “It’s amazing how many people go through their day and don’t realize they need to follow up with a medical professional,” she said.

Pam Marecki, spokesperson for Bay Health, said the event gives the medical center a great opportunity to talk about its services.

Mary Field, general manager at Nobles Pond, an over-55 community in Dover, said it is the only large event her company sponsors outside its own 293-acre property.

“We always want to have a lot of exposure in the community, and we think this is a great venue to do that,” she said. “Everything that you can imagine that someone over 55 would want or dream of, generally there’s a vendor there who has that kind of information. There’s just everything there.”

The event grows every year. “Now we pretty much use all the space Dover Downs allows us to use — the hallways, the seminar rooms, the rotunda,” said Judy Diogo, the chamber president. “This is a really good opportunity for the business community to connect with a growing market of customers. We have over 5,000 people attending, so I think many businesses could walk out of there with 100 qualified leads at least.” ♦

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