All weekend, shoppers milled where fairgoers had the weekend before, this time slipping freely inside the Agricultural Hall grounds to admire everything from photographs to pottery, hand-spun scarves to hand-carved walking sticks, at the annual Labor Day Vineyard Artisans Festival. The artists behind this wide variety experienced varied success selling, too, in what most agreed was a tough economic environment for specialty wares.
Holding three wooden walking sticks made by The Damn Beaver, Deidre DeCarion, a shopper carefully examined each one, carefully comparing them to figure out which would best serve him. After a few minutes of contemplation, he chose one of elm. Pulling money out of her thick, leather apron to make change, Ms. DeCarion, a 12-year veteran of the Artisans Festival, said Labor Day is usually a good day for her. Ms. DeCarion said she didn’t see any slowdown in sales.
Farther down the hall, photographer Janet Woodcock stood in front of her newest series, a set of limited-edition toned gelatin silver prints of nests. “There’s good foot traffic today,” she said as people stood by admiring her work. Asked if she noticed any difference in sales due to the recession, Ms. Woodcock said no, but added that people usually don’t buy her work spontaneously. People often look and don’t buy anything for two to three years. “I think in better economies maybe sales are more spontaneous, whereas they feel more calculated,” she said, adding however that the fluctuations don’t disturb her because, “there will be fluctuations.”
Still for others including Lorri Hart of LA Hart Jewelry — dubbed the pearl lady by some of her customers — the difference in sales has been noticeable. “We’re down from last summer,” she said standing behind a case displaying dainty freshwater pearl necklaces with handmade silver and gold clasps. “I notice a lot more low-end items are selling,” she said, whereas last year she sold quite a few of her pricier pieces. But Ms. Hart also said she was not worried because she believed it will all come back.
Perched on a bar stool next to a table displaying finely-crafted wampum necklaces, Jannette Vanderhoop watched as people strolled down the aisle in front of her booth. “I think that people aren’t spending a lot of money on luxuries, and I think that a lot of artists have noticed that the sales are down, and we’re re-evaluating how many shows we want to do,” she said.
One booth was as busy as ever: employees from the beloved Bunch of Grapes Bookstore buzzed around answering questions, stacking books, and making sure everything was running smoothly at their booth in the corner of the Agricultural Hall. By their side, local authors sat behind piles of books, signing them while chatting with enthusiastic readers.
After a fire on the Fourth of July weekend destroyed the store’s collection of books, forcing it to shut down during the busiest part of the year, it looked like the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore would have to miss the festival this year. But to the pleasant surprise of authors and readers alike, store owner Jon Nelson decided to donate a booth and invite Island authors to sell their books and give a portion of all the proceeds to the Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown firefighters associations.
The store’s event coordinator, Dawn Braasch, along with the help of Vineyard Stories, a custom publisher in Edgartown used by many of the Island’s authors, rounded up the writers for the festival.
“As you can see, they came out of the woodwork wanting to do this,” said Ms. Braasch, laying a neatly written list of participants’ names down on a stack of books in front of her. Ms. Braasch was pleased that Mr. Nelson decided to donate the space and give the authors a forum to sell their work. “It certainly can’t make up for the loss of the summer, but at least [the space] didn’t go to something other than books,” she said, explaining that all of the authors were hurt by the fire.
Wendy Rouillard, author of The Barnaby Series, said she lost a lot, estimating that around five per cent of her total sales are from The Bunch of Grapes.
“It means a lot to me because at first it wasn’t going to happen. You just feel a sadness,” Ms. Rouillard said.
From a seat next to Ms. Rouillard’s, William Marks, author of Water Voices from Around the World, said the decision to participate was a no-brainer. “I feel honored to be able to contribute to resurrecting that island cultural icon,” he said.
When Vineyard Stories called Susan Whiting, who along with Barbara Pesch wrote Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II, and told her that the festival was a go, she jumped at the chance to participate. “What a great thing it is to be able to have this opportunity, because without The Bunch of Grapes we really haven’t had a great place to sell our books, and so to do this and give back to the firemen is awesome,” she said smiling.
Store manager Katherine Fergason said anything they could do to support the firefighters would be wonderful.
“To us, they really did do an outstanding job that day. Yes, we lost our inventory, but our building’s still there, and if it weren’t for them it wouldn’t be. That’s all there is to it,” she said.
And for Ms. Fergason, the store’s participation was important for another reason: “People see it as a sign that we definitely will be back,” she said, adding that even though the store has closed its doors for now, the staff has been working diligently to prepare for the day when the Island favorite re-opens.