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Furry convention a $3 million cash cow for city businesses

By Adam Brandolph
Saturday, June 28, 2008

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A half-dozen heads are spiked on a rack in the middle of a freezing-cold room.

A man in a bear costume is propped up against a row of chairs as a fan cools his uncovered face.

Another man in a purple dragon suit lies on his back. His hair is wet. He's sweating.

"It gets very hot inside here," Matthew Ledgerwood, 34, of Ontario, Canada, said from the floor of the Headless Lounge, a place where costumed attendees of Anthrocon 2008 can get hydrated and cool off. "The more you move around, the hotter you get. Without rooms like these, it would be almost impossible."

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Anthrocon, the annual convention of anthromorphists, known as "Furries," is where people like Ledgerwood can come together to celebrate the humanization of animals, especially in cartoons and comics.

This is the third year Pittsburgh has hosted the event at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, where it was moved from Philadelphia to accommodate its growing fans.

Nearly 3,000 Furries are expected in Pittsburgh this weekend, Anthrocon spokesman Karl Jorgensen said.

"Every year we get bigger," he said. "People come from all over the world to attend."

The attendees last year brought $2.5 million into the city, Jorgensen said. More than $3 million is expected this year.

The three-day, four-night event features artists, writers and vendors who showcase goods from collars to buttons to in-costume cooling and hydration systems for those famous furry costumes. It's the largest event of its kind.

Although the costumed patrons are the ones who often stand out, only 12 percent to 15 percent of them dress in full costume, Jorgensen said.

But most Furries want a full suit, said Joyce Clouser, 21, of Detroit.

"They're just very expensive," she said.

Starting at about $500, they can top out at $8,000 for professionally made costumes with electronic jaws and ears, Clouser said. Some costume designers have a two-year wait list before they'll even stitch a button.

Alex Brinley, 20, of Chicago has owned his costume for eight months. He said he likes dressing up because he can get away with things he normally couldn't, such as being wild and crazy.

"You can do it because people won't know who you are," said Brinley, whose animal costume is "Tiggy," a hybrid tiger and cheetah.

Cooled, Ledgerwood was ready to go back to the convention floor. He said his interest in mascots goes back years.

"One day I tried one on," he said, "and I got hooked."

Adam Brandolph can be reached at or 412-320-7936.
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