Public Market: the crafter's answer to Black Friday

Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2010

There is nothing that appeals to me about Black Friday. With a belly full of turkey hangover I'd rather burrow deeper into my winter covers than fight the throngs of shrieking shoppers ready to duel over a plastic made-in-China party tray at some horrifically early hour. But, there is one exception to the shopping mayhem that conjours visions of rosy red cheeks on friends and family, delicious morsels to munch and heavenly rows of locally handmade crafts as far as the eye can see. The greenbacks in my wallet will happily dance their way out to be exchanged for goods at Juneau's annual Public Market.

As a crafter, if you're not selling at the Market, you're attending. Since 1983 this crafter's paradise has been held the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Thanskgiving at Centennial Hall without fail. Peter Metcalfe, founder and current go-to guy for the Market recalls the impetus for the fair.

"I had long admired the Pike Place Market (aka, the Public Market) in Seattle," he said. "We mailed invitations to business license holders in the Juneau area, got an overwhelming response, and were off and running."

From 85 vendors in the first year to around 175 expected this season the market has grown to overtake both the entirety of Centennial Hall and its neighbor the JACC.

Vendors like Rebecca Poulson, a printmaker who creates The Outer Coast wall calendar, return year after year for the personal experience.

"There is nothing like selling your things to someone face to face," she said. "Art is all about communicating something you can't express in any other way, and it is always wonderful to connect to someone who 'gets' the thrill of old boats or a beautiful muskeg plant, and I get ideas too from people and their response to what I've made."

Ella Bentley, who has only missed one year of the market, echoes the same.

"I like to meet the people face to face that purchase my items which they are spending their hard earned money for," Bentley said. "I appreciate that they're buying something that I have made with my own two hands."

The sense of community draws crafters from far and wide as well. Dean Snook, wood worker and owner of Mountain Top Woodshop who has driven (and then ferried) from Houston, Alaska, each year for 15 years puts it plainly: "I like Juneau people."

And the bazaar is also a family affair. The Mannings, a local family full of artists, each make their own crafts from candles to jewelry to leatherwork and more. For more than 10 years they have come together to host a booth and, in uncle Jim Galluzzo's words, "It has become an annual family event and part of our Thaksgiving tradition."

For those who are just getting their feet wet in the world of crafter's markets, the Public Market can be an exciting but daunting place. This year, 25 percent of vendors are first-timers, and they are boldly going forward with the same question ringing in their minds, "How much product do I need to make?" From hand-dyed yarns to jewelry, to beaded wearable art and more, the new crop of crafters are veterans of online selling with Etsy, but have yet to brave the personal experiences of the market. When asked why this was the year she took the plunge, jeweler Miranda McCarty proudly exclaimed, "Peer pressure!" A more common theme echoes in yarn-dyer Melissa Highfill's response.

"I'm working on expanding my business," she said. "Taking it from something I do just for fun for my own handknits to offering it to other crafters."

If this Black Friday I do nothing more than meet a few crafters looking to expand their local business, get inspired by some creative folks, and drink a couple of pumpkin lattes, I will have surpassed all expectations of happiness, even in a turkey-hangover state.



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