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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 29, 2002

Value adds to the craft equation

• So you're off to a craft fair?

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Shoppers browse at a booth displaying wooden bowls during a craft fair on the Mission Houses Museum grounds. Such events offer one-of-a-kind and Hawai'i-made creations as memorable holiday gifts.

Advertiser library photo

Christmas craft-fair shoppers want value, says a veteran fair organizer. With the soft economy, potential job losses linked with folding businesses, and anticipated holiday bills, people are hunting for bargains.

"Since 9/11, it's hard to predict whether people just come to look or buy," said Caroline Infante, who is organizing her 16th annual Island Wide Crafts & Food Expo at Blaisdell Exhibition Hall this weekend.

"But the craft-fair crowd is different; they wouldn't come to just look, they come with cash to buy," she said. "And the selling point is going to be values. I tell my vendors to have one thing in their booths that will be on special, with value. Fair people are those with discretionary money; they are prepared to buy if it's got value."

Grant Kagihara, the driving force of Cane Haul Road, says this year will be pretty much like last year: a bit of a struggle. So crafters need to take some risks, he said.

His signature item is the local emblem, local saying T-shirt, which is never out of fashion and is a staple for holiday shoppers.

"You have to have something new to offer, because the buying public is looking for new stuff," said Kagihara, whose latest tee says, "Bachi. Mom Warned You."

"All the mothers are buying, so I ask if it's for their kids who were naughty when they were young," he said.

Though the craft season is young, Kagihara said, some folks already are out there shopping with a frenzy.

"The serious people are always out early," said Kagihara, who will be at this weekend's Mission Houses Museum fair and at the V.I.P. sale Dec. 13-14 at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i fair. "Even in a down market, T-shirts are a good gift."

In providing something outside of his usual items, Kagihara said the V.I.P. event will be a risk of sorts.

"I will be experimenting with a lot of different things, so it will be a roll of the dice," he said. "I'm doing some jewelry, and place mats. I'm trying to do some lamps, if I can find the right wood. Everything but T-shirts."

Kagihara said buying is somewhat off, basing his conclusion on the fact "that you don't see as many big bags (of purchases) these days. People are concerned about their jobs, about talks of layoffs, so they're concerned about value. But I believe most people budget for Christmas, and in Hawai'i, where family is important, you have to buy gifts for your family."

But Sheri Bentley, who organizes at least 14 craft fairs annually, said if her event two weeks ago is any barometer, buyers are flocking to fairs.

"I think (traffic) was up 50 percent," she said of her Handcrafters & Artists Alliance fairs (the next one is Dec.14-15 at Ala Moana Park). "We advertise in your paper, have bookmarks out at libraries and bookstores that offer 10 percent discount at the fair, and we've had a lot of traffic."

Bentley, who will have 40 to 45 vendors at her upcoming fair (down slightly because of competing fairs), said she has been working with crafters for the past 20 years "to give them a venue to sell."

Pam Seeney, board chairwoman at Temari, the Center for Asian and Pacific Art, said the organization's Trash and Treasure sale earlier this season was "good fun and well-attended."

She noted, however, that some crafters "purposely dropped prices, since everyone's competing for the same bucks and people have been price-shopping." A creator of a variety of collectibles, Seeney said "as a crafter, you always need to try something new, to have something fresh."

Infante's event is one of the largest, with 400-plus vendors; over a three-day run, the fair will attract 27,000 to 29,000 shoppers.

"I have had a lot of pre-calls, people asking when the fair is," she said. "Mainland people plan their trips so they can attend the fair. So that tells me people are still interested in buying crafts. Saturday — all day Saturday — is our busiest day, right up to 10 p.m., when we're closing. I could go on for two more hours on a Saturday."

• • •

So you're off to a craft fair?

Here are a few helpful hints:

Before you go: Make lists, actual or mental, of who you're shopping for; get sizes for kids, Dad, Mom, to make it easier. Bring a roster of same-day craft fairs, so you can hop to a second or third one without wasting time or gasoline.

Know your marketplace: The Mission Houses fair offers top-caliber Hawaiiana; the Pacific Handcrafters Fair assembles top artisans who often sell in stores at higher prices; the Islandwide Christmas Crafts and Food Expo is one of the largest, with hundreds of items from apparel to snacks, and it's open at night, too, a blessing for day workers; the World Art Bazaar at the Academy of Arts boasts exotic imports; the Festival of Trees stocks ornaments and table decorations large and small; the "Bigger & Better" fair hawks wares not often seen in other sales; the Original Holiday Faire features rare wearables and artifacts; school and community fairs offer true homemade crafts.

If you're lucky enough to get on a mailing list for smaller, at-home private fairs, you generally find gems not reproduced in quantity.

Some fairs charge admission, but most are free.

Best time to go: The early bird gets the parking, the best choices and the cooler temps. Crowds tend to peak at noon and early afternoon.

Essentials to bring: Bottled water (it gets hot, and you get thirsty); a durable, oversized bag to haul purchases, particularly smaller items that may get lost; cash, because not everyone takes plastic, although checks generally are OK; an umbrella, in case of rain; sunblock, so you won't look like a lobster on Monday; sunglasses, to handle glare. A quickie first-aid kit might be advisable: Bandages for cuts, salve for sore arms or backs and eyedrops for dust.

What not to bring: A baby in a stroller (it's too crowded and warm for a small child, and strollers are hazardous); worse, a stroller with no baby (moms use them to stash purchases).

Dress code: Comfy shoes for all that walking. A cap, hat or visor as sun shield. Cool clothing. Better go home and change if you go to church on Sunday and are dressed up; casual rules.

Other tips: Take a snack or soda/coffee break while you look over your list. The pause will refresh you for your next fair. Buy perishables at the end of your spree; chocolates melt, plants wilt. Cookies also can get crumbled, so caution is advised. If you buy oversized items, ask the vendor to hold them until you're done shopping. Shop in pairs, so you can hold each other's stuff for bathroom breaks.

— Wayne Harada