Arts and Crafts Show Reviews 2011 -- June and July

Celebrate West Hartford
Old Deerfield Summer Craft Show
Crafts on the Common, Amherst, MA
Church on the Hill Crafts Show, Lenox, MA

Celebrate West Hartford

This year the West Hartford show was a completely different show than it was last year.  It rained both years so I don't think the weather was the reason.  Last year we sold expensive pieces, processed lots of credit cards (many of them AmEx), and made lots of money from people who didn't even look at price tags.  This year traffic was really slow on Sat. as it poured til almost noon.  All but one of our customers that day paid with cash.  On Sunday traffic was great, the tent sometimes packed, but we sold nothing over $60.  In total we took in half of what we did last year.  Really disappointing.

In the past craft shows were divided between those appealing to price-conscious consumers and those appealing to style-conscious consumers.  Each has a different look.  At the classic crafts shows booths are crammed with goods, having multiple copies of each item on display,
looking like the well-stocked shelves at most retail stores. The booths at shows appealing to style conscious customers, or art shows,  have goods displayed more like they would be in a gallery--minimally to highlight each unique piece.

In talking to several vendors I have learned that the show has been declining for the last three years after 15-20 years of being a reliable high end show.  Everyone I talked to--jewelry & fine art--was taking in much less money than last year.  So the show is having to change from being primarily an art show to include more crafts.  The guy in the booth next to mine sold bird houses.  He has been trying to get into the show for 4 years & this was his first time.  He cleaned up.  I bet he took in $2-3000 just yesterday.  He had no competition & was not the typical vendor for this show.  Customers several times commented on how nice it was to see new vendors.  I think they'll have to accept more of what "they" consider as craft rather than art in the future.

BTW, the show had about 170 vendors, 37 had jewelry as all or half of their inventory.  Several more had a smaller amount of jewelry in addition to their main product.
As usual we met a lot of nice people but this was the first time we experienced theft.  Someone walked off with a steampunk pin, probably when the tent was particularly crowded & we were distracted with several customers trying on necklaces.  One rude person with a dog on a leash just kept walking, ignoring my daughter as she yelled " Your dog just peed on our table cover!"  
Two vendors in our area forfeited their booth fee and didn't show up at all--probably due to the weather forecast.  Three more who were there on Sat. didn't come back on Sun., most likely due to lack of sales. 

This show has a $175 booth fee and no jury fee.  Applications are due in Feb.

Old Deerfield Summer Craft Fair
Weatherwise it was a beautiful weekend for a craft fair.  The Old Deerfield Summer Craft Fair is in its 36th year.  But the show seems to be declining.  I parked early, 10 am, and caught the bus with about 8 other people.  The Channing Bete lot had 20+ cars but the Yankee Candle lot had only 6.  No one was selling tickets to the show in the parking lots this year and on Sunday they didn't even need a traffic cop on Rt. 5 & 10.  

Amherst was holding it's Taste of Amherst this weekend and Sunday was Father's Day.  Maybe people just had other things to do.

In talking to a few vendors I found out that Saturday was "ok" for some.  One vendor said that she only took in half of what she made last year; another told me she got her booth fee back plus a little.  The booth fee for this show is $285 - $345 plus a $25 jury fee.  The food vendors (jellies & dips), as usual, seemed to be doing well.  Though there was a lot of jewelry, with only a few exceptions, it was mostly inexpensive strung beads.  I was disappointed to find one of my favorite jewelers has begun mass producing bracelets.  I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she makes them all herself.  But bracelets lined up with 8 of each color makes me think of the dollar store.  Yet she was selling pretty well.  So customers are opting for the less expensive, less unique, jewelry in this economy.

This year I counted 107 traditional craft vendors. A lot of the regulars were missing but I noticed a few new people.  One jeweler, Lavender Dawn, had beautiful lampwork bead jewelry and someone outside her booth demonstrating how these beads are made.  Nice touch.   The fair was sprinkled with people selling produce (strawberries) and potted plants.  But it was the booth selling Leaf Guard Rain Gutters and another advertising his basement remodelling business that spoke the loudest about how desperate Old Deerfield has become to collect booth fees.  

Money made on their 4 craft shows helps support the Old Deerfield Museum.  It's a great cause.  But I wonder how much they actually make when both vendor numbers and customer traffic is so low.

Crafts on the Common
This is an annual show sponsored by the Hampshire County Big Brothers & Big Sisters.  It takes place on the common in downtown Amherst, MA, along side the Amherst Farmer's Market.  They have a few food vendors, the Bart's Ice Cream truck, music, a raffle and things for children to do.  
If I had to guess, I'd say traffic was around 5000 people.  This year the weather cooperated to the relief of those of us who sold at last year's show in the rain.  But in talking to vendors I found that they were unanimous in saying they sold more of their work last year.   While people spent time in each booth appreciating artistic talents, purchasing was down.  Several people entered our booth by announcing they were there to look as they weren't able to buy this year.  Our sales were down 25% from last year.

The poor economy seems to have affected most shows all this year.  I like to chat with other vendors and most say that it is a down year.

But the lack of purchasing is in no way the fault of the BBBS group.  They are easy to deal with, advertise well, are responsive to vendor questions, are organized, and provided volunteer assistance both in setting up and taking down booths.  The booth packet includes a list of other vendors, name tags, food provider menus, and an artisan evaluation.

The booth fee for this show is $100 with a $10 jury fee.  We will probably try to get into this show again next year.

Church on the Hill
For me this year was much better than last year.  The weather was perfect, we had a better location, traffic was heavier, and so we made a lot more sales--about 60% more.  I was undecided for a long time about returning to Lenox, but I'm now glad that I applied.  But Lenox is having problems attracting non-jewelry vendors.  Rather that opt for a smaller show, they filled the empty spaces with jewelry so that about every third booth was jewelry.  As one jeweler put it, "We're not talking about cookies here.  We're sharing a pie.  And we're each getting a really small piece."  Aptly put.  

I didn't talk to all the jewelers but the 4 I spoke with were all doing well enough for it to be worthwhile to set up.  But none said they were having an excellent day.  A lot of customers came with cash and a budget.  So thank the universe for tourists.  They came with their charge cards and just bought what they loved.  And Lenox is filled with tourists all summer.

This show has been ongoing for many years.  The volunteers from the church do a great job of organizing, coordinating the unloading and packing up.  The church has hamburgers and hotdogs for sale and vendors get a discount on the pancake breakfast they serve on Sunday morning.  

The only problem with this show is the terrain.  Lilac park is hilly and uneven.  Bring shims for your tables or displays and plan on extra time setting up.  And if it rains, expect rivers through your tent or puddles if you have low spots. 

The booth fee for this show is $200 and the application is due in April.  I will most likely apply again.