The organizer of a canceled pet expo that left animal rescue groups and small businesses concerned about refunds said it has been put in a “financially devastating” position, but it remains devoted to its exhibitors.
St. Louis-based Amazing Pet Expos was scheduled to hold the Windy City Pet Expo in late July in Schaumburg. Dozens of exhibitors purchased booth space and thousands of people were expected to attend the weekend event. But the company said it had to be canceled due to a last-minute insurance issue that could not be approved in time.
President and CEO Sheila Rilenge said a former employee who was issued a restraining order earlier this year found ways during and after their employment to disrupt business operations. Rilenge said that included canceling contracts and fabricating records.
“We have never been in this position before,” Rilenge said. “It has created such an impact.”
Amazing Pet Expos said it also canceled its expos scheduled to be held in Pittsburgh, Memphis and New England.
Rilenge told NBC 5 Responds that while it has taken longer than expected to get issues resolved for Windy City exhibitors, more than half of the animal rescue groups who bought booth space have been refunded.
“Not only are people receiving refunds and other expenses, but they have all been offered free space at next year’s Windy City Expo,” Rilenge said.
The explanation from Amazing Pet Expos comes as more vendors have stepped forward to say they lost time and money as a result of the canceled event.
“The expo was supposed to be in July. We’re in the end of September now. It’s a lot of money to be out of for a small business,” said dog groomer Mary Beth Ritchie.
Ritchie, who owns the Yuppie Puppie in Schaumburg, said she is waiting to be reimbursed for booth fees and advertising expenses. She said she also purchased dog collars and bandanas to sell at the expo and attract potential customers.
“Now I have all these things I purchased that are just sitting on shelves, in the shop and in storage, because I’m not going to get 14,000 people in the next couple of months to come through a small shop like this,” Ritchie said.
Several exhibitors also expressed confusion upon being told to initiate the refund process by completing an online survey. However, Rilenge said she thought it would be a simple process and would not cause delays in getting the necessary information to her company’s insurance provider.
Dahna Betts of the Shih Tzu Rescue, Adoption and Education Safehouse (S.T.R.A.E.S.) in Homer Glen spoke to NBC 5 Responds in August regarding her wait for a booth fee refund. Several days after we contacted Amazing Pet Expos to inquire about the status of exhibitor refunds, Betts received a $700 check.
Rilenge said if insurance has not processed expense refunds for vendors by September 30th, the company would issue the money.