Staff Photo: Tyler Estep. First-time Repticon visitor Hannah Graham holds a snake Saturday at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. The event, which offers a variety of reptiles for sale and viewing, continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Hannah Graham had never wanted anything to do with snakes. She was terrified, and "never came close, never wanted to, never cared to" hold one.
On Saturday, though, she somehow got talked into visiting Repticon, the biannual reptile festival at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, and the embodiment of every herpetophobe's darkest dreams.
By mid-afternoon, a (mostly) calm Graham had a tiny boa wrapped around her left hand.
"They're so cool, they're so sweet. I didn't expect that," she said. "I think I have a new outlook on all of them."
With 160 tables and roughly 50 vendors selling everything from boa constrictors to mice and tarantulas to turtles, Repticon comes to Gwinnett twice a year. A typical two-day crowd between 1,500 and 2,000 people enjoy special shows and exhibits and opportunities to ask questions from some of the country's top experts.
Veterans wander the fairgrounds' main exhibition hall with their own snakes draped around their necks, while newcomers explore cages, terrariums and glass tanks wide-eyed.
"We love it," second-time visitor Misty Jean said. "The first time we were here we walked away with two iguanas."
Added young son Maximillian, holding up his newest pet: "But one got away and now we got a bearded dragon."
Repticon has 19 show sites across the country, all but one east of the Mississippi. Event coordinator Skip Peel said the conference has been coming to Gwinnett and the Atlanta area for about 10 years, with good success.
"It's the Atlanta area, which is very popular for reptiles," Peel said. "You can see how busy it is ... It's a great location."
Repticon will be open again from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. Adult tickets are $10, with children ages 5 to 12 getting in for $5 and younger kids attending for free.
There was no word on whether Graham, the converted herpetophobe, would be back for a second day. But she was certainly sold on the event as a whole.
"I love it here," she said. "This is awesome."