By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter
For being ostensibly about commerce, the Kenai Arts and Crafts Fair, held Black Friday weekend, no less, inspired surprisingly little talk about spending money. Far higher on the list of priorities for vendors and visitors was spending time and attention on loved ones.
“We come shopping here together every year. It’s our tradition,” said Shaya Straw, who was perusing the booths Friday at Kenai Central High School, in the annual fair put on by the Peninsula Arts Guild, with her friend, Mandy Pieh.
“We both work full time, we both have kids and we don’t get much time together, so it’s nice to have time together,” Pieh said. “… Friendship is just something to really be valued.”
For Jessica Russo, craft fair season is reunion season.
“To me, this is holidays. I see people I don’t get to see but once or twice a year. And it’s just wonderful to see everybody and see new stuff. I haven’t really gotten a chance to walk around yet but I know there’s a lot of awesome stuff out there every year. It’s a good way to start the holiday season,” Russo said.
She and her mom run a booth as an extension of their gift shop, The Peddler, in Ninilchik. For Russo, selling is a way of buying time with her family.
“I’m a stay-at-home mom,” she said. “This gives me a great side income to be able to stay at home with my son. And it’s my Mom and I that partner in the business, so family owned and operated and it really feels good to be able to do what I love and be able to make a small living at it.”
The familial focus is familiar for Ashleigh Little, of Kenai Bijoux. She started selling jewelry, wine charms and jewelry board organizers about four years ago.
“My husband told me to get a hobby, so I got a hobby,” she laughed.
These days, she’s a stay-at-home mom to her 1-year-old son, and the business generates at least a little income for her. She’s born and raised in Kenai so loves that she gets to see so many familiar faces at the fairs.
“It is fun. It is a lot of work, though — hauling and organizing. A lot of preparation goes into it,” she said.
And that’s just during fair season, in the summer and around the holidays. Then there’s all the work required the rest of the year to make the items they’ll sell. But the homemade, unique aspect of the merchandise is the draw of a craft fair like Kenai’s.
“You know it’s created by the individual in the booth. You’re supporting a local person, not a big chain store,” said Karri Ambrosini, with AK Quilting Frenzy.
Russo takes the handmade ethos to heart so much that she wears it on her sleeve. Or, under her sleeve, rather, as she has a tattoo of the Made in Alaska logo on her forearm.
“I figure that since I’m a crafter it totally applies,” she said. “I’m actually born and raised here in Alaska, from Ninilchik, and figured I wanted an Alaska tattoo. And since I’ve been in the craft business for 10 years now, I figured it was appropriate for me.”
The booths offered every handmade craft you could think of — jewelry, pottery, fiber arts, glassware, carvings, metalwork, edibles, wearables — and some items you might never have thought of until you saw them.
A large part of Betty Carver’s Wolf Dreams booth fits that last bill. She sells soy candles and melts in a variety of scents. Some of the usual floral and environmental variety, and others, most decidedly not.
“For Christmas we have Snowman Balls, Reindeer Poo. The Alaska ones we have Moose Nuggets, we have Yellow Snow, Northern Lights. And for the fun ones, we have Butt Naked, Lick Me All Over, we have a Marijuana, and my most popular is the Monkey Farts. Monkey Farts I thought was going to be more banana, but it’s butterscotch. So they smell good and they have funny names, too,” Carver said.
This is Carver’s fifth year coming from Eagle River to sell at the Kenai fair.
“I love coming down here because you get different customers and different vendors, and I like to do a little shopping of my own, too,” she said.
Ambrosini, of Soldotna, has been selling at the fair for over 20 years. She runs her AK Quilting Frenzy booth in conjunction with Dips Alaska, run by longtime friend, Sherri Hansen.
“We see everybody and there’s a tremendous amount of people that come through this fair. And they come from all over. Even the people who just move up here come and check out this arts and crafts fair,” Ambrosini said.
Case in point are Jenny and Jeffrey Merrill, of Kenai. They’ve shopped at the fair every year since they moved to Kenai in 2009, and for Jeffrey, even longer.
“I think it’s the best, for a local craft fair, coming up from the Lower 48, there’s nothing that compares with this,” he said. “I lived up here in the ’90s, I lived in Anchorage, actually. I came here once in the ’90s and I just fell in love with it when I lived in Anchorage and I’ve been coming, since I moved back to Alaska, ever since.”
Fair fun yet to come
’Tis the busy season for crafts fairs, with more scheduled between now and the end of the year:
- The Kenai Potters Guild’s annual Christmas Pottery Sale will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai.
- Homer Council on the Arts’ Nutcracker Fair is from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday at Homer High School.
- Central Peninsula Hospital Auxiliary’s Holiday Bazaar is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday in the Denali Conference Room downstairs at the hospital.
- The Kenai Peninsula Fair’s Christmas Bazaar is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Ninilchik Fairgrounds.
- The Nikiski Community Center’s annual Holiday Craft Fair is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 12.