Crafters can find success in lean economic times

For years, the fall months have traditionally been filled with craft shows and church bazaars. However, the recent economic downturn has not only trimmed household budgets, but also amounts of money spent at the craft shows. As churchgoing populations change in age, the many old-fashioned traditions at bazaars have also gone by the wayside. However, some craft shows continue to draw crowds and vendors find forms of economic success, while continuing their artistic pursuits.

Craft shows used to have many holiday-themed items, especially for Christmas. Today, walk into a craft show and visitors will find stalls selling everything from framed photography, NASCAR, college and pro sports items, blankets, doggie treats, soaps and lotions, purses, lights, chairs, leather goods, sweatshirts, and more. Contemporary and cutting-edge artisan creations sit side by side with the traditional Christmas and fall crafts.

Bob Larson, of Wadsworth, is a wood turner. His table was filled with bowls of various types of wood, salt and pepper shakers, plates, and decorative items. Larson has made wood products in his spare time for about 30 years, but is new to the craft and art show circuit. “I’ve really only started going to shows in the last three-four years,” he said.

Larson paid $55 for his booth, and said he chose Dalton over a show in his own hometown, also going on at the same time. He said the Wadsworth show was “too expensive and too restrictive,” and was a one-day, five-hour show. The Dalton show, part of the Dalton Holidays Festival, took place over a two-day period, Dec. 4-5. He said it was also less expensive to enter. He was one of more than 80 crafters at Dalton High School.

After he bagged up two items for a customer, Larson said he hasn’t been in the business long enough to see if there has been much of an effect from the economic downturn. However, he said, craft show crowds are looking for special things. “They want something unique…something that’s one of a kind.” To illustrate his point, he held up a spaulted maple bowl he crafted, and said pieces like it are rare and not every wood turner makes them.

Craft show veterans Annette and Jeff Radsick of Perry Township, near Massillon, have cut back on the number of shows they attend. Annette Radsick worked on painting designs on Christmas tree ornament bulbs, while in front of her display were dozens in boxes for customers. She said she and her family are too busy to do the dozens of shows they’d do each year in the past, and now attend about six. Painting bulbs since 1996, and doing custom-made work for individuals and families for bulb sets, she said she’s been doing crafts for more than 25 years. She works on several ornaments at a time, and each one takes about 15 minutes to paint and then dry.

The economy has affected the Radsick’s craft show earnings. Annette Radsick said they make “a little bit less than before…but you kind of know that going into a show.”

Jeff Radsick pointed to the biggest change that he and his wife have noticed: quality. “People used to make all the crafts,” he said. “Now, you can almost take the word ‘craft’ out of it.” The couple said some vendors buy the mass-produced items wholesale and then resell them at craft shows.

While her husband watched the merchandise and talked to customers, Annette Radsick continued to intricately paint sets of the fragile bulbs. Like her booth neighbor, Larson, the craft shows are a time-consuming labor of love, and not a sure-fire way to make quick dollars on the weekend. However, their artistic contributions will keep bringing crowds back and draw in new shoppers looking for something special to use or display not just during the holiday season, but year-round.

(reposted from the Wooster Weekly News ,
By Robin Hauenstein, published: December 9, 2010)