Holiday bazaars are a global tradition. Whether you're sauntering through street stalls sipping hot mead in Bratislava or shuffling through carpeted church banquet rooms in Boise, you're sure to find similar mom-and-pop vendors hawking an array of glittery angel ornaments, cinnamon-scented wreaths and candied pecans. But not all holiday bazaars are storehouses for Precious Moments tchotchkes. A new breed of not-your-grandma's arts and craft markets are springing up around the country. These gatherings of hip young things, modeled after events like the Renegade craft fairs in Chicago, Brooklyn and San Francisco, are an opportunity to find unique, hand-crafted goods—with an urban edge.
During the past few years, the Flying M Coffeegarage in Nampa has become the locus for the Treasure Valley's crafty entrepreneurs to sell their seasonal goods. The Hip Holiday Market has nearly doubled in size each year it's been open, with eight vendors in 2006, 15 in 2007 and 27 scheduled for 2008.
"We only had a handful of people that first year, but they all loved it. They all wanted to come back," says Flying M owner and event organizer, Lisa Myers. "This year ... I think I'm going to max my garage space."
Stores like Nampa's The White Pine, Boise's now-closed Decore and various local farmers' markets have opened their arms to nu-crafters over the past year. Whereas these vendors only had a limited number of places to sell their products previously—such as global online craft marketplace Etsy.com—new, more public venues are offering a chance for one-woman operations to grow into viable business ventures. Unlike shopping at larger chain stores, where identical assembly line items dot neatly stocked shelves, craft markets offer a rare chance to shake the hand that made your new hoodie.
"[The hip Holiday Market] is like going to the Portland Saturday market, where it's just so amazing seeing all the stuff but then the creator is right there to talk to," Myers says.
Though many of these vendors employ the same methods as their elderly predecessors—knitting, sewing, crocheting—they manage to add punk rock flair to the objects they craft. From Jennifer Schram's company Revive, which sells used men's suit coats repurposed as funky scarves, to BW's Meshel Miller and Chelsea Snow who craft tote bags from vintage fabrics under the name Hold Me, this group of mostly women is helping to disassociate crafting from its previous, pre-feminist domestic connotations.
"What [making crafts has] given me in terms of a sense of individuality is huge," says jewelry maker Trish Anderson of Bella Grano. "It's not that I'm making millions of dollars every year doing this, but it's something that's important to me and I'm doing it by myself. I'm making the decisions and it's very liberating in that sense. And all the girls that I know who are either married or stay-at-home moms feel the same way."
Anderson first started making her simple, long-chained beaded necklaces three years ago for her friends. After lots of positive feedback, she decided to open a booth at the Middleton farmers' market. Unfortunately, the crowd was less receptive to her products than she had hoped and when the opportunity arose last year to participate in the Hip Holiday Market, Anderson was unsure what to expect. Luckily, funky coffee shop patrons turned out to be her niche audience.
"I sold over half of my necklace stock that night. That was a huge confidence booster for me and helped me realize that this is my crowd and this is working. People like this," says Anderson.
Teresa Johnson, owner of Dot and longtime Flying M barista, sees her business as both an essential creative outlet and way to glean a little supplemental income. Though Johnson has been selling some of her unique Victorian-inspired collars and hats in the Flying M gift store, this will be her first time participating in the Hip Holiday Market.
"I'm really excited to get some new ideas that I've been working on out there to see if people are interested," says Johnson. "That's the hard thing with handmade stuff is making it affordable to buy."
Affordability, especially during these cash-strapped times when discretionary spending has plummeted, is one thing that Myers struggles with at both of her Flying M gift shop locations. Though she prefers supporting local artisans, Myers admits that it can be hard to keep prices low enough for her patrons without carrying some cheaper, mass-produced gift items.
"Obviously [the gift shop] is not the atmosphere for an impulsive $100 necklace," says Myers. "There are stores that do that and do that well, but the Holiday Market is my way to be able to be a part of all that."
She explains that while store-front businesses need to tack a commission on most items to turn a profit, craft markets can provide artisans with an avenue to sell their wares directly to consumers within a concentrated time period. Though most markets charge a fee per table or booth, they don't often charge the exorbitant 30-50 percent commission that boutiques do. In the end, that means crafter's can offset product overhead and time invested, while consumers can walk away with unique, affordable gifts they know no one else will have.
"I charge for a table, but I don't take a commission," says Myers. "It's all about [the artists] trying to make some money and people getting really cool things."
But whether the end goal is making some extra cash, or stretching creative muscles, most crafters involved with the Hip Holiday Market find the face-to-face interactions they have with their customers to be the most enthralling part of the day-long event. For Lesley and Lynsey Juel, who make both button- and felt-eyed sock monkeys and re-constructed vintage sweatshirts, hearing stories about who will be receiving their labors of love makes all the hard work worthwhile.
"The sock monkeys are my favorite thing to sell because people get so excited about them. I get to know where they're going. People have been telling me that it's going to their brother, or whoever," says Lesley Juel.
And though the resurgence of craft is largely political—incorporating parts of the eco-conscious, anti-corporate and buy local movements—the objects created are also just plain cool.
Wal-Marts around the world will have a hard time competing with that.
Saturday, Dec. 6, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., FREE. Flying M Coffeegarage, 1314 Second St. S., Nampa. For more information, call 208-467-5533.