Volunteers helped improve Shanty Days Arts and Crafts, Street fairs
ALGOMA – Katie Brandt and Tina Lawrence are the driving force behind the Arts and Crafts Fair and Street Fair at the city's annual Shanty Days festival.
From running the day-to-day operations to jurying various vendors around the state, without these two women, the Shanty Days craft scene wouldn’t be the same.
Brandt first started working at the Arts and Crafts Fair in 2003, her longtime friend Lawrence joining her in 2010. When Lawrence first started, she was commuting back and forth from Florida every two weeks, using her time here to catch up on preparing for Shanty Days.
The two took over the job of running the Arts and Crafts Fair (which offers arts and crafts vendors, of course) and Street Fair (which has products from spices to T-shirts and everything in between) in 2012, and along the way, they’ve made some changes.
“We’ve changed the look, the view of the place, and made jurying more intense,” Lawrence said.
The partners travel around the state on their own dime to find the best vendors with quality homemade products. And if the product isn’t authentically homemade, it's out. All this was in effort to give the Shanty Days fair the most authentic and legitimate products.
“When Tina first came in, we rattled the cage," Brandt said. "Because we had been retailers and crafters, we recognized what is and what isn’t homemade.”
After the initial shakeout, they dropped about 20 percent of the fair vendors. By the next year, those losses had been replaced with vendors that often can’t wait to come back to Shanty Days. Brandt said about 35 percent of the 160-plus vendors will reserve their spot for next year, paying for it a year in advance.
“They’re waiting in line to pay for a spot,” Lawrence said.
The reason the two can rattle off numbers and percentages so easily, they say, is that they treat the Arts and Crafts and Street Fair like a business.
Even while the fair is underway each year, Brandt and Lawrence are continuously seeking to improve for next year and make changes along the way. Email and the internet have helped keep track of vendors, forms and contact lists. Both said it’s a lot easier than when they had to send all the info out by mail.
And, like some of the best businesses, they like to add a personal touch. On the days of the fair, they provide coffee, water and doughnuts for the vendors.
“We’ve met some of nicest people and made long-lasting friendships,” Brandt said. When someone who had been a vendor for more than 15 years had to stop coming, she felt like she had “lost a family member.”
Along the way, they solicit suggestions from vendors, ask how they would rate the show, and ask if they would like to see changes to make it better.
All the hard work by Brandt and Lawrence pays off for Shanty Days, as the Arts and Crafts Fair and Street Fair combine to be the biggest money maker for the three-day weekend.
“We do enjoy it, and the satisfaction is when it’s all set up and people go by and see how great things are looking,” Lawrence said.
When the fair is underway, the hosts are busy working long hours, rarely taking any breaks. Their personal cell numbers are always available to the vendors during Shanty Days,
“We are very reachable and hands-on,” Lawrence said.
They start setting up and getting ready as early as the Tuesday before the festival weekend to prepare for the Friday start. Then it's work from sunup to sundown.
The only break for Brandt and Lawrence during the festival is when they make a point to go and watch the Saturday parade from Caffé Tlazo. They also take time at the end of each day of the fest to unwind.
“As exhausted as we are, we always go down to the grounds to eat, see some of the entertainment, see other members, and maybe have a few drinks and socialize,” Brandt said.
One recent addition the partners have made is an option for food to be available to the vendors, who are also working long hours and often can’t leave their sites. They worked with a vendor that sells food, and the exhibiting vendors can place orders and the food will be delivered to their sites. Last year, it went so well the vendor ran out of food, but this year he will have reinforcements ready.
Also at the fair, live music will be playing at various times, all arranged by the hosts.
“We’ll have music, refreshments, bean bag toss, and things for the kids to keep families together,” Lawrence said.
It comes as no surprise that these two hardworking friends also run their own business together.
“It all started many years ago as a joke that someday we would own our own business together," Lawrence said.
Now that dream has come to fruition. Brandt and Lawrence own Maplewood County Cupboard on State 42 and are entering their second season. As experts in gift shop retail, their shop has offerings from local crafters and bakers. New to the business this year is their Friday Open Air Market, with help from Jason, Becky and Dixie Jorns.
The 31st annual Shanty Days community festival takes place Aug. 10 to 12 in Algoma. The Juried Arts and Crafts Fair is on the lawns of the Algoma Public Library and Algoma Elementary School, at Fremont and Fourth streets). The Street Fair is across Fourth Street on Fremont. For more information, call 920-487-2041 or go to visitalgomawi.com/shanty-days.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Volunteers helped improve Shanty Days Arts and Crafts, Street fairs