Sylvia Merryman has a simple philosophy about life.
“If you live in Alaska, you better be busy,” she said standing in front of the booth where she and her husband Gary sold their various craft items — necklaces, hand-carved chickens and roosters and salmon mobiles made from “up-cycled” beer cans.
Merryman said that outlook is absolutely necessary. It’s one that spurs her to make and sell her necklaces for little to no profit. But it is not about money, she insists.
“When the cold weather comes, we do things to keep us from having cabin fever of course,” she said.
“I do it for fun — I don’t do it for profit that’s for sure,” she explained. “You come here to this craft show and you see everyone you know. Everybody that comes by.”
The Merrymans were two of about 160 vendors that filled Kenai Central High School Friday and Saturday during the Kenai Fine Art Center annual craft fair. A shoulder-to-shoulder crowd was common place as residents hunted for a unique, hand-made item to take home on Black Friday, the day commonly referred to as the biggest shopping day of the year and typically saved for big box store deals.
Merryman wondered, however, how anyone could justify shopping anywhere else considering the congregation of artistic and creative talent displayed at the bazaar.
“I’m getting kind of tired of China,” she said. “We need to support ourselves. When we are at the craft show we will go and buy things from the other crafters because where are you going to get something that’s that original?
“We buy things from other vendors because I like American stuff and Alaskan stuff.”
Tom Cooper, owner of Alaska Horn and Antler, agreed.
“Before the big box stores came, it wouldn’t matter if there were 60 mile per hour winds and it was 20 below, people would flock in here,” he said. “You wouldn’t even know it was bad outside. But with the big box stores opening up at 3, 5, 6-whatever in the morning now, you know.”
Cooper said he attends similar bazaars each weekend during October and November all around the state. Friday’s sale, considered by many to be the area’s biggest, is his favorite.
“Yeah, because it is the last show of the year I do,” he said with a laugh.
His booth was set up at a critical intersection at the bazaar — any resident wanting to see all of the items for sale would have to pass by his table at least four times, he said. He’s hung onto the spot for more than 20 years.
Over the last few years, however, business has dropped, he said.
“But I don’t sell anything anybody needs,” he said. “I sell eye-candy kind of stuff. But it is good because we still have a lot of support from the community.”
Diane Harrison, a Kenai watercolor and oil painter, said she has seen sales of her prints go up the last several years.
“It seems like sales have been increasing over the years because people really like something authentic,” she said. “None of this stuff you could find in a drug store and people realize that.”
She agreed there was truly something for everyone, a testament to the area’s creative side.
“You’ll go broke here buying stuff,” she said. “There are so many unique things.”
For others, however, the excitement of bazaar day doesn’t come solely from selling something. But rather that someone would consider the fruit of their labor worth purchasing.
Lauren Trimble, who sold various knitted items through her storefront, The Beachcomber Studio, said it was her first time selling at the Kenai show.
Although the Anchor Point resident said she has items in galleries in Homer and Anchorage and online, she said was very nervous the first time she did a show in person.
The creator is putting his or her self in the spotlight, hoping for a positive reaction and that’s not always easy, she said.
“Making art or making anything is pretty personal and then putting it out there and thinking someone will appreciate it at a dollar value and buy it, you know, until you have done it enough and sold enough things that you know people … will buy this, it is kind of nerve-wracking,” she said.
Courtney Katzenberger, a Sterling-area potter, said she has been selling her work at bazaars on and off since she was 19.
She said it’s hard to remember what it was like to feel nervous about selling handmade items. What keeps her wanting to come back every year are the people who shop at the show.
“What I am making, I want people to use it and to love it,” she said between ringing up a few items for a patron. “I think I make like $2 an hour here by the time I am done, so it is really because I want people to use them and enjoy them like I do.”
“There is a certain energy with something that is handmade versus something that’s made in China that is manufactured. People identify with that and want to want it.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.