Monday, August 23, 2010

A Tale of Two Craft Shows

It was the worst of times. The economy had tanked. People had little expendable income. Most were repairing what they owned as they couldn't afford to purchase anything new.

It was during this economic downturn that Mary and her committee of craft show organizers were once again preparing to jury applications from artisans for their big event in its 34th year. The pile of applications seemed to be smaller than last year. She had heard that some vendors were not doing any of the the expensive shows this year as they weren't selling very much. Income from their show was badly needed to maintain the quality of their museum displays.

After working through the applications Mary knew they were not going to fill all the spaces. They still had room for more fiber arts and glass. And they really would like to see some photographers.

As usual they had more than the necessary number of applications from jewelers. Some had been rejected several times but continued to persevere. "Maybe we could fill the spaces with extra jewelers," suggested one committee member.

"I know who these people are." said Mary. "I've seen them at other shows. While they send pictures of items that appear to be handmade, they're resellers. Their $5 silver rings will tarnish our image of a high quality arts and crafts show."

With heavy hearts the committee agreed to put on their craft event with fewer vendors than usual and they spread them out a little to conceal some of the empty spaces. They made much less money for their museum. And, unfortunately, there were fewer customers and they didn't spend as much money as in past years. But their small show maintained its integrity.

That same year, half way across the state, Bob was wading through piles of applications from vendors for the 28th annual town craft show. His show raised money for the local schools and Bob had become chairman 5 or 6 years earlier. He no longer had a committee, just a few volunteers who set up and cleaned up afterward while he supervised from his golf cart.

When he became chairman, Bob decided that it would be a lot easier to jury only the new applications. But Bob did the jurying and it was all about the money so pretty much anyone who applied was accepted. And once accepted they could come back every year as long as they paid the fee. In his first year he accepted 3 jewelry resellers. As a result, the following year, 2 exceptional metalsmiths did not return. But word got out and he received applications from a couple of clothing resellers whom he accepted. The third year of his tenure no painters or photographers applied. But that was ok because he now had someone with stuffed animals on a stick and another vendor with penny candy. And so it went. And as long as people had less money, they were happy to see the resellers and their bargain bins. They bought lots of $10 dresses and $3 bracelets and $8 stuffed animals on a stick.

It's been 3 years now and the economy is slowly regaining its health. Not everyone is doing well but many people feel more comfortable buying nice gifts for their relatives and occasionally treating themselves.

Mary's 37th annual craft event has almost all the spaces filled with quality handmade arts and crafts. People who appreciate well made handcrafted items are coming from great distances confident that they will find only the finest at Mary's show. Things are looking up.

Bob has added carnival rides to his annual event. Most of his spaces are filled with resellers, balloon and souvenir vendors, ring toss games, a fortune teller, and most appropriately stuffed animals on a stick. A few people from town who don't travel to Mary's craft show still attend.


  1. I learned some things about craft shows here that I wasn't even aware was an issue!! I've never actually sold at a craft fair before, although I've been told that my items were perfect for it! My physical circumstances don't allow me to...and now, after reading this post, I'm almost glad I don't have to think about whether I should, or which one I should!!!

  2. Like any new venture, it's a process of learning as you go.

  3. Wow Jan! Not knowledgeable enough to know which shows you are talking about but I like the imagery. Sorry about Bob's show sucking so much for you.