The 24th annual “Hard Candy Christmas” craft show drew large crowds of artists and shoppers to Western Carolina University’s Ramsey Center last Friday and Saturday. More than 100 artists from all over the southeast set up booths around the arena and displayed an array of wares ranging from nature photography to recycled art, to glass blown jewelry, and art made out of horse shoes.
The events promoter, Doris Hunter, an artist and Macon County native, worked to create a Christmas craft show in Franklin to highlight the area's best artisans. The Friday and Saturday after each Thanksgiving was selected for the event in hopes that as the biggest shopping weekend of the year would help promote business for the event. “This year’s event was our largest yet,” said Hunter, “We had 114 exhibitors, who all had a wide variety of crafts.”
The two-day event brought 3,000 visitors to the area who travelled from all over the southeast to visit the fair. According to Janet Anderson, an artist from Otto, NC specializing in fused glass art, lampworked beads, and unique jewelry, this year's event was so successful because Hunter branched out and did more advertising than normal. Anderson, who has attended the “Hard Candy Christmas” craft show for 20 years, said she did exceptionally well this show. “I did really well,” said Anderson. “I had several customers from Atlanta, South Carolina, Asheville, and parts of North Georgia. It helped my business a lot because with this bad economy any extra punch can make a huge difference.”
Every item purchased from Anderson’s booth comes with a card which features the address and website (http://www.wildfredglass.com/). “All year long I get cards and emails from people who received items purchased at the craft show,” said Anderson. “It is so special that they take time to thank me for their gift and let me know they enjoy each item.”
According to Hunter, when the economy took its first severe hit in 2008, the Christmas craft show lost nearly half of their customers. Attendance has been lower than previous due to the recession, but last weekend’s event showed that the attendance was growing and showed promise to continue flourishing. The exhibitor’s this year were split down the middle between returning artists and first time exhibitors, said Hunter.
One new addition to this year's show was Macon County’s own Ronnie Evans who was on hand to play classic holiday music, which offered a nice new touch to the kick off of the holiday season.
“I have been to so many of these shows and this year’s was one of the best,” noted Anderson. “The show gets bigger and better each year and has become a landmark.”
Last Saturday was deemed “Shop Local” throughout the region and with that, combined with Black Friday shoppers, the craft show provided unique, one-of-a-kind gifts for all occasions. “Shoppers were able to buy American made gifts for close to the same cost as imported products,” noted Hunter. “Several of the items come signed and dated by the artists which is not something you get when you purchase a product that is mass produced. The handmade products can be family heirlooms because they are going to be just as good quality 100 years from now as the day you buy them, and that certainly isn't the case with import products.”
“More and More people are turning back to support the American Craftsman,” noted Hunter. “We have great furniture sales and pottery dishes that serve as lasting additions to anyone’s home, and they were all specially crafted locally, it was wonderful.”
Sylva native Kerri Tucker has been attending the Christmas craft show with her mother for as long as she can remember. Each year she gets a spoon ring from Silver Creations out of Alabama. “It is such a neat item and I have gotten one every year,” said Tucker. “It is a ring made out of the end of a spoon. That just isnt something you can find in a store, it is special. I remember when I got each ring and plan to one day pass on the stories.”
The very first show was held in the Slagle Memorial Building in Franklin. The rock building had a big fireplace so we called the show “The Fireside Art & Craft Show.” The original exhibitors included Hunter (Pinecone birds), Michael Rogers (Watercolors), Gail And Roger Marsengill (Country craft), Linda McKay (Victorian craft & bears), Cynthia Star Lightfoot (Granny dolls, Rod Eirwood (Jewelry), Norma Deeks (Cowee Creek Pottery).
The following November, the show moved uptown to the old Callahan Building on Main Street with hopes that the second exhibit would be even more successful than the first. There were 18 exhibitors, which packed the buildings with shoppers coming to the show. The event’s third year was moved into the gym at the Macon County Community Building and featured 23 exhibitors and drew an even larger crowd than the years before. The show has continued to grow ever since.
After 15 years in Macon County, the craft show had evolved into the largest Christmas craft show in the western part of the state. By 2006, the event had grown so much that the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce worked with Hunter to bring the fair to Western’s campus, where it has remained ever since. According to Hunter, the move allowed the show to grow even more because many artists who wouldn't travel to Franklin were more open to the idea of the event in Cullowhee. “We never dreamed of where we were going to go when this all started,” said Hunter. “The best businesses are just like the crafts we make, they take time and effort to be great!”
“I love having a really nice show that is right here at home,” said Anderson. “I don't have to pay extra money for traveling and lodging. It helps keep my money in the local economy and has helped shape the identity of the region.”
Next year’s “Hard Candy Christmas” craft show will mark the 25th anniversary of the event, and according to Hunter, she is already busy planning special events to celebrate. “We are really excited about next year and are working on lots of special touches to help celebrate 25 successful year.” said Hunter.