JemCon makes first visit to R.I.

THE 17TH ANNUAL JemCon, a convention for fans of a popular 1980s TV series and toy line created by Hasbro Inc., will be held at the Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick from Aug. 25-27, marking the first time the event has been held in Rhode Island since its inception in 2005. / COURTESY JEMCON 2023

WARWICK – Hundreds of fans of a toy doll line created by Hasbro Inc. will descend on the city for the 17th Annual JemCon, which will be held in Rhode Island for the first time since its 2005 inception. 

The event will run from Aug. 25-27 at the Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick, where organizers quickly booked up its room blocks and priority vendor booths. 

The grassroots gathering changes locations every year. It was entirely virtual in 2020 and 2021 and was held in Minneapolis last year. 

And now attendees will gather a few miles away from where the Jem doll was born.

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“It is a homecoming of sorts for the convention,” said Alana O’Hare, senior director of communications and special projects of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The fans are very devoted. I am surprised they didn’t come here sooner.”

When Hasbro introduced the Jem doll in the 1980s, it competed with Mattel Inc.’s Barbie and inspired a cartoon television series show in the fall of 1985 called “Jem and the Holograms,” which became part of the Saturday morning cartoons lineup and ran for 65 episodes. But the company later discontinued the line and show. 

But thanks to reruns syndicating on streaming platforms, the show has seen a resurgence in popularity, leading to a new generation that inspired an annual fan-led convention. 

“Several attendees have met their significant other and gotten married because of the event,” said Rachel Pankiw, chair of JemCon 2023. 

The event is also welcoming Fierce Drag Jewels as a sponsor and celebrity guest judge for a cosplay contest. Each year, JemCon holds a charitable auction of memorabilia and then donates the proceeds to a designated charity. This year’s proceeds will benefit Camp BraveHeart, a youth summer camp with locations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. 

Special guests for the convention include Samantha Newark, the speaking voice of Jem; product designer Stefanie Eskander; Christy Marx, animated series creator; and Georgina Melone, former vice president of innovation for Hasbro. 

Eskander, who is now an independent toy designer based in Utah but lived in South Kingstown from 1986 to 1990 during her stint at Hasbro, said over the years the hundreds of JemCon attendees have become a second family.  

“They go every year and they all know each other,” she said. “But I think it’s going to continue to grow.” 

Eskander said many in the industry consider the 1980s the golden era of toy making, with the popularity of those brands expanding because the children of that time are now adults with disposable income interested in nostalgia. 

“These things go in cycles,” she said. “And I think we are now in one of those times.” 

And she credits the durability of the toys designed during that era, which after 50 years still hold up better than many of their cheaper and modern counterparts. 

“Lines like the Jem dolls are timeless,” she said. “It’s hard to find toys today that are made as well.” 

Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at Allen@PBN.com. 

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