The Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend's Exhibit Hall is a beast all its own. It's where the leather and kink diehards cross paths with the weekend's spectators. Once upon a time, any curious soul could simply walk in off the street and start shopping – or gawking. But even with the introduction of an Exhibit Hall admission charge last year for those not registered with MAL, the hall seems as popular as ever.
''It certainly has become a big part of MAL,'' says Chris Wilkins, the Centaur MC's Exhibit Hall chair for the past four years. ''Looking at the number of participants, versus those just in for the day for the Exhibit Hall, I would say it's one of the major attractions.''
With some 30 vendors of various sizes selling everything from portable slings to jewelry, lubricant to paddles, there is certainly something for everyone. Or, as Wilkins puts it, ''It's a dynamic mix of people and exhibitors. If you want it, you can probably find it. Or, at least, find someone to point you in the right direction.''
One of the vendors who regularly makes the run down from New York is kinky clothier Nasty Pig. Nasty Pig CEO David Lauterstein promises that the MAL pilgrimage with wares in tow is not as grueling as one might think. There is a warehouse. There is hired help. There is a system.
''We've got it down to a science,'' Lauterstein says with a laugh, giving much of the credit to the moving crew Nasty Pig hires for the haul. ''Being from New York City, we're of the belief that other people should do the driving.''
Jim McGlade, owner of The Leather Rack, could likely even make the journey on foot – though not with his arms full of merchandise. But even with his shop of clothes, toys and accessories sitting atop Dupont Circle, he still finds it important to participate in the Exhibit Hall.
''It's worthwhile,'' he says of The Leather Rack's MAL presence. ''We have a lot of history within the leather community across the country. But we do offer a discount if you come to the store.''
And discounts can be the name of the game, particularly for that heavy piece of equipment for which you'd rather not pay shipping costs. Beyond that, Wilkins says now may be the time to buy.
''Six years ago, sales started going down. Now it looks like they're on the rise again.''
Entry to the Exhibit Hall is included in MAL registration. Otherwise the cost is $25 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, $20 for Saturday and Sunday, or $10 for any one day.