GREATER WESTFIELD-One of the highlights of the holiday season for many area residents is getting together with family and friends and attending the myriad of craft fairs and bazaars at a variety of venues – and with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic – many show organizers have already canceled plans or are still weighing their options.
For Donalyn Gross, owner of Donalyn’s Maple Syrup Toppings based in Springfield, her concern that is shared by others in the small business crafter community is whether there will be options this fall.
“I’ve been a crafter at holiday craft fairs for over 20 years, most of them falling between September and December,” said Gross. “Unfortunately, due to the virus, some or many of the fairs might be canceled.”
Gross said she thought it would be helpful to create a directory of crafters in Western Massachusetts and beyond who sell their merchandise year-round.
“I put together a directory because we are all small businesses and wish to keep up our customer support,” she said.
Gross is offering the directory free via email to anyone who sends her their email address.
“This is a listing of crafters in the area who want to get the word out that we’re still here, even though the fairs are up in the air,” said Gross, noting the listings detail the business name, contact information, website if available, and description of merchandise sold.
“Many of us have shoppers who’ve purchased our wares for years for the holiday season, and we want to remind them that our crafts are available year-round, fairs or not,” she said.
Gross said her specialty maple syrup toppings – Maple Pecan and Maple Walnut – are always popular during the holiday season. She recommends to her customers that her toppings are perfect for pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, yogurt, ice cream, French toast and butternut squash.
“I’ve found that everyone loves the maple for the holidays so I’ve just done that through the years,” said Gross, adding she traditionally participates in 10 to 12 fairs each year, most in the Springfield area.
“Last year I did the Westfield Technical Academy fair and – wow – there were around 150 crafters,” she said. “That was the biggest fair I’ve ever seen and been in. I hope to be back there again this year, as for all the fairs I usually do.”
Gross said her idea for the directory evolved since she noticed crafters were also looking for insight on fairs across the region. While at fairs, she collected business cards and started an email list that is now updated regularly.
“I always say it’s my favorite time of year because I get to see the crafters and shoppers just at that time of year,” said Gross. “It’s like a reunion, and I have a lot of return customers.”
For crafters who would like to be added to the directory, the fee is $10 and inquiries can be made to Gross via email to [email protected]. Gross defines a crafter as someone who makes “hand/homemade products including art, knit, wood, jewelry, food items, and sewn items.”
Noelle Owens, also of Springfield, is among the many businesses in the directory. Her business, JOY Robes, features reversible fabric robes for babies, aged three to 24 months.
“Donalyn was the first crafter friend I made when I first started doing craft fairs,” said Owens. “We’ve run into each other at different craft fairs and after a while you get to know the different crafters and start to share tips and strategies of craft events.”
Owens said her robe designs have evolved from the first ones she made for her grandchildren to wear when they were born.
“After I started making the robes people would say I should sell them,” said Owens, who has been in business as the sole employee for seven years.
“Mainly I make robes for the fall and winter so I’m hoping some shows including the Mattoon Street Arts Festival will return this fall,” said Owens.
Owens added one of her most popular robes is the “Sun and Moon” and pairs it with stars indented into the soft fleece fur.
“It is very hard to find something for little baby boys, without the animal faces looking too girlish,” she said. “I like to mention to buyers that you can use a robe as a group gift, and add other little items for bath time if you wish. Or, you can include the book ‘Goodnight Moon’ as a package gift.”
Carrie Piekos, of East Windsor, Conn., is also a member of the directory and specializes in “unique handcrafted birdhouses made with recycled wood products.”
“Donalyn is such a great advocate for local crafters and always supporting people,” said Piekos. “I’m always happy to support her.”
Piekos said she is also the only employee of her business, Rescue Wood Retweeted Birdhouses.
“Spring is our big time to sell birdhouses but this year with COVID-19 it will be a wash,” said Piekos, adding, “We hope next year will be a better year.”
Piekos said her birdhouses come together from barn wood, typically acquired from destroyed tobacco barns that dot the landscape in her town.
“We buy or ask for materials that can be recycled,” she said, noting that each birdhouse is unique. “I use silk flowers and butterflies and every birdhouse gets a lady bug.”
For Owens and Piekos, they are hopeful as is Gross, that craft fairs will once again flourish – especially during the upcoming holiday season.
“We are small businesses and many depend on what we make while others do it as a hobby,” said Gross. “Fairs are great for crafters, shoppers who come early and do their holiday shopping early, and it also benefits the venues like churches and organizations if they are looking for certain crafters.”