O, Christmas Fair

Christmas is in four days (and Hannukah starts in three!), so ’tis the season for holiday markets! Depending on where you’re located, they may also be called Craft Fairs, Marché de Noël, Nutcracker Market, Marché de Casse Noisette, Artisan Fair; you get the point. If you live anywhere near a church with a basement, or in a city with a community center, then you’ve probably been to a craft show. They tend to occur more during the holiday season, and while it seems like the underlying idea behind them is clear, I’ve found that they really vary from market to market. And the main thing that seems to vary is the vendors. 

What I mean by this is that I’ve done a few “shows” now over the last few years, and one thing always seems to jump out at me, which is not all vendors are selling ‘handmade’ items. (Well, surely they’re handmade by someone, but most likely those hands are in a factory in China somewhere.)  Let me explain what I mean.

The point, in my opinion anyway, of craft shows is that they exist for people to sell their wares, make money, gain exposure, etc. The hosting facility or party may also make money from admission fees, raffles, food sales, donations, and so on, not to mention advertise their organization or services. So it seems that it would be a win-win for organizers and participants. But often it feels as though sales at these shows are few and far between. There are however, different calibers of ‘shows’.

An example of a bag I made last year to sell at a farmer’s market. 

Where I live, there are a few shows held each year that are considered to be “the” show to get into. Most of these are juried, which means that vendors are required to submit photo samples of their goods and then must be chosen, usually by a group of people. Needless to say, being accepted to these shows can be difficult, however the payoff is usually great if you are. These craft fairs are better advertised, have high attendance, and vendors are likely to do well in sales. The problem where I live though, is that these shows have become sort of an exclusive club. What that means is that often, the same vendors are chosen each year, and it is near impossible to get your foot in the door. But from a shopper’s perspective, isn’t it somewhat boring to see the same people, (with the same items), every year? I myself have been turned down a few times trying to get into these shows, so then what does one do?  They turn to the church basement.

No, not for some weird religious voodoo ritual that we hope will help us at future craft fairs. No, we go for the church basement craft show.

You know the kind of show I’m referring to. The kind where you’re set up in a poorly lit basement space, or a gym, someone is selling tea and coffee as a fundraiser (which are both so weak they taste the same), and most people have no idea you’re there unless they stumble in looking for their Meals on Wheels meeting. Have I set the scene for you? These seem to be much more commonplace because as I mentioned before, churches are pretty evenly dispersed in most towns and they usually seem to be in need of a fundraiser. Therefore, they are happy to set up a craft show where they can charge a certain amount per table, and because of that, they accept almost anyone as a vendor.

If these two descriptions ring any bells (jingle bells!!), then you know the kinds of shows I’m talking about and the difference in quality of items that are being sold. I will freely admit that as someone that makes things by hand, it’s hard to compete with those that merely re-sell things. Or act as ‘reps’ for larger schemes. (You know, Scentsy, Arbonne, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, LuLaRoe, Thirty-One, the list continues). And I don’t mean directly compete for sales necessarily, but rather the perception of quality. I myself have been to many craft fairs in my life and usually I walk in, scan the tables, and if nothing seems to catch my eye, or there are too many of these re-sellers, then I leave. I feel like those are things that I can simply purchase at a store.

Do you think she made all these Pillow Pets just for this show?

To the same extent though, some of the more upscale, juried craft shows also put me off. Maybe it’s because I live in hipster central, but there have been times where I go to a show, and I feel like I’m not even worthy to be looking at some of the items. Hand woven scarf made with wool sheared from the sheep that the vendor keeps in it’s backyard. Organic homemade tomato jam made with heirloom tomatoes grown from grandma’s 100-year old seeds. Leather toiletry bag made with tanned unicorn hide and hand stitched with polar bear whiskers. I mean, what. Is that why prices are so exorbitant? Why can’t we have a happy medium between the two?

When I signed up for my last show a few weeks ago, the woman organizing it asked me, “What happened to old school craft shows? Where people would make like, holiday tchotchkes? You know, where someone would have made reindeer decorations for the holiday out of a clothespin/pinecone/maple leaf/etc. Or a Santa mason jar full of cookies?” I said, I don’t know, but that seems to be how I remember craft shows. You came across things that that were so unique and quirky that you HAD to buy them; and then buy one for everyone you knew too. But it seems that we’ve gotten away from that quirkiness and now everyone is a silversmith who makes jewelry.

So if you’ve made it through this long, craft-fair related diatribe with me, I say thank you. My mind is whirling with other thoughts, but I’ve probably said enough on this subject (for now). If you’re still doing holiday shopping, please consider a craft market. Most vendors put a lot of time, money, and passion into creating their goods and are trying to being in some extra income. Or, get inspired and create your own gifts!

What are your thoughts on craft shows? Do you like them? Avoid them?


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