SILVER CITY -- The parking lot of the Silver City Rec Center was overflowing with cars Monday on the final day of the 26th Annual Rolling Stones Gem and Mineral Show.

With 50 to 60 vendors set up inside and out, and 5,000 attendees, the event has long outgrown the 6,000 square-foot space at the Silver City Rec Center and organizers hope to find a larger space to host next year's show.

Parking is definitely a problem at the current location, said vendor manager Laquita Lett, whose husband, Jim, organized the show for 10 years before he died several years ago.

The new 67,000-square-foot business and conference center that the county will soon be refurbishing with a recently received $2 million grant would be more than sufficient to host the show, organizers said, and would offer more parking and better visibility at its location on Highway 180.

The building, which was recently purchased by the county, was originally a Wal-Wart and was most recently used by Teleperformance as a call center.

Many area hotels were sold out over the weekend including The Drifter, Holiday Inn Express, the Econo Lodge, Motel 6, and Super 8, with visitors coming to town for a combination of events, including several weddings, a family reunion, a Senior Softball Tournament, WNMU Mustang's first football game of the year, and the annual gem and mineral show. The Palace Hotel had only one or two rooms left each night.

The gem and mineral show brings thousands of visitors to Silver City over the Labor Day weekend including vendors like Linda Woods, from Phoenix, who has been doing the show with her husband, Bob, since 1996.

Woods sells a variety of items at her booths including lapidary items, potpourri, Casas Grande pottery and other trinkets and gifts. She said she has seen a dip in spending compared to the last three years, and attributes it to the economy.

"Most of the vendors expect it to be down," she said, and the majority say they are down as much as 50 percent.

Lett said many of the dealers tell her the Silver City show is the nicest they have attended. Many have been coming back for a decade or more.

Julia Ruiz and her husband, Trinidad "Trini," have been coming from Chihuahua, Mexico to sell their wares at the Silver City show for the past 15 years, Julia said.

She said attendance seemed down a bit this year as well, but attributed it more to the weather, which may have affected them more since they were one of the vendors set up outdoors behind the rec center.

Visitors included Patricia Huband and her husband, who have been coming to the show for the past three years from their home in Las Cruces.

"It's become a Labor Day Weekend tradition for us," Huband said.

After stopping in at the show on Saturday, Huband said she and her husband planned to head downtown to visit some of Silver City's antique shops and wrap up the day with some Christmas shopping.

Terry Kinter and his wife Gail, both of Silver City, also attended the show on Saturday and have been coming since it first started.

"We have a great time walking around and looking at all the handmade jewelry and the one-of-a-kind pieces offered by all the different vendors," said Terry Kinter.

The biggest complaint organizers hear, Lett said, is that so many of Silver City's restaurants and antique stores are closed on Sunday and Monday.

Folks who come to town - both vendors and tourists alike - would like to dine out or shop are area stores, but not much is available to them over the holiday weekend.

"That has been a complaint for years," Lett said.

First-time visitors to the show Iris Castagna and Peggy Warner were also visiting Silver City for the first time. They came to town from Albuquerque in their RV to explore the Gila Cliff Dwellings and saw the signs for the gem and mineral show and stopped in on Monday.

"There's a nice variety," Warner said, of the variety of wares available at the show.

The pair said they were staying four days and enjoyed Silver City's downtown. They dined out at Isaac's and the Red Barn, Warner said.

"We've left some tourist dollars."

As part of the three-day show, the Society also offered three field trips - one each day - to area sites to hunt for specimens.

Two of the field guides, Joshua Reeves and Kyle Meredith, both experienced gem and mineral hunters, took a group out to a pre-designated spot, and after taking the time to make sure that the less-experienced hunters have a clear idea of what they were looking for, help them dig out their finds and identify what they have uncovered.

"We change the location of the hunts to keep it interesting for people and so they have a chance to find a wide variety of gems and minerals," said Reeves.

Once the treasure hunter is satisfied with their cache of gems, they can stop by the WNMU campus, where Ginger Coombs, who manages the lapidary lab there, will show them how to use the cutting, grinding and polishing tools to achieve the look that they want.

The annual show is the largest fundraiser for the organization, which uses the money to give out two $500 scholarships a year -- one per semester -- to a student at Western New Mexico University studying Earth sciences, and to put on next year's show.

Christine Steele can be reached at; (575) 538-5893 ext. 5802