With holiday bazaars canceled, crafters are struggling

Plus: Teen Talk; Charlotte's top news of the week

Today’s Ledger is sponsored by Providence Day School. Providence Day School exists to inspire in its students a passion for learning, a commitment to personal integrity, and a sense of social responsibility. Virtual admissions open houses are Oct. 29 and Nov. 8.


As craft shows disappear for the holidays, artisans and vendors hunt for shoppers in new places; ‘I’m shut down cold’

Dee Turner was a popular vendor at the Southern Christmas Show for more than 35 years, and she also sold women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories at 30 shows nationwide each year. But Covid has brought all of the shows she frequents to a halt. (Photos courtesy of Dee Turner)

by Cristina Bolling

Charlotte artisans Brian Egger and AJ Selapack seemed to have found the perfect formula for craft show success: a product that’s fun and unique, a go-go attitude and even a German shepherd named Marco who sits at their booth, charming customers and driving sales.

The duo’s company, Montford Misfits, creates craft beer signs, maps and other beer-inspired artwork and apparel out of a workshop in South End. In the last few years, they’ve landed booths in hard-to-book craft fairs from New York to Tennessee, and bought a high-tech printing machine so they could sell more goods.

When 2020 started, they were gearing up for their biggest holiday season yet. Then, Covid.

“It was cancel, cancel, cancel,” Egger said.

Whole industry reels: The cancelation of big holiday craft shows nationwide is disappointing shoppers who often make attending them a holiday tradition, and it’s throwing the craft industry into a tailspin that some artists and makers may never recover from.

Some small holiday markets or pop-up bazaars are still happening around Charlotte, but not at nearly the numbers of typical years, when shoppers flock by the hundreds to churches and community centers to walk the aisles, buying everything from crystal jewelry to birdhouses made from hollowed-out gourds.

There’s no clearinghouse of data on how many holiday bazaars have been canceled — some groups are still waiting to make the final call — but certainly, the biggest ones in the Charlotte region are off: the gigantic Southern Christmas Show and Christmas Made in the South in Concord.

Some 60-70% of Montford Misfits’ annual sales happen during the holiday season, Egger said, and right now, nearly all of the holiday shows they were planning to attend are canceled.

To make up for the lost craft fair sales, Egger and Selapack ramped up their online sales and got a vinyl heat-transfer machine so they can also print signs and small-order apparel jobs. But finding customers via the internet or by word of mouth isn’t as easy as manning a booth and making sales as people in the mood to spend money stroll by.

“With these shows, you’re putting these gifts in front of people and they are just slammed” with customers, he said. “Even with online, you can’t beat having a shop where they’re bringing thousands and thousands of people in.”

Brian Egger (left), AJ Selapack and Selapack’s dog, Marco, have been creating and selling craft beer-themed signs and other art pieces and apparel at craft shows for the last five years. Egger has made Montford Misfits his full-time job, while Selapack works in IT for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. (Photo courtesy of Montford Misfits)

‘Crying my eyes out’: The Southern Christmas Show at The Park Expo and Conference Center in east Charlotte is one of the biggest shows in the southeast, with more than 400 vendors and some 100,000 who are reported to visit the show over the 13 days it runs every November.

This was to be its 53rd year, and this year, it’ll be held virtually due to Covid.

Thousands of Southern Christmas Show shoppers and vendors, many of whom have been coming to the show for decades, took to social media to mourn the loss.

Wrote one commenter on the show’s Facebook page: “I knew it was going to happen but still makes me so sad! This has been a tradition for my mom and me since 1997. It always puts me in the holiday spirit. Every year I leave saying that I can’t wait until next year. This sucks.”

Among the heartbroken is Dee Turner, a former Bank of America audit manager who left the banking world more than 35 years ago to sell women’s accessories, clothing and jewelry under the name Beau Ties at the Southern Christmas Show and other shows like it nationwide.

“The pandemic has got me sitting on the sidelines crying my eyes out in silence, wishing and longing for the days of old, when I would be at a show showing my wares and doing my thing,” Turner said.

Turner usually works nine months a year traveling to about 30 shows, and over the course of her selling career she’s visited 43 states including Hawaii and Alaska.

She always finishes her sales year with the Southern Christmas Show in Charlotte, and for the last 15 years she’s occupied the same spot: Booth 2049 in Independence Hall.

She does occasional mail or phone orders, but 90% of her business comes from shows. Now, she’s on unemployment.

“Right now, there’s nothing. I’m shut down cold,” Turner said. Still, she considers herself one of the lucky ones.

“Some of the vendors are falling by the wayside because they were not established enough to sustain the prolonged absence of shows. I’m one of the fortunate ones,” she said. “I’ve been in this business long enough that I’m able to stay on the sidelines and still can go back. The business was good to me, so I’m financially able to wait out the storm.”

Smaller markets still on: If you know where to look, craft fair lovers can still find some spots to buy homemade goods.

Krystie Schlicker runs Starving Artist Market CLT, which has organized 13 outdoor pop-up markets since May, at venues ranging from Primal Brewery in Huntersville and Belmont to Armored Cow in the university area. They’ll have an outdoor, socially distanced holiday pop-up market Dec. 5 at the Metropolitan in midtown.

Schlicker, who’s been doing Starving Artist Markets for four years, said it was “ridiculous” how many artists reached out when she first started markets back up in May. And business has been good at the events she’s put on so far during the pandemic.

She set up a booth with her own crochet work at the first one in May, “and I was like, ‘Nobody is going to buy my stuff.’ But I made a couple of hundred dollars, and I was like, ‘This is ridiculous! In a pandemic. Everybody is surprised by it.”

Charlotte is known as “a really great art community,” Schlicker said, “so I think we have a great leg up in that sense. Especially now during Covid, that obviously no one saw coming, to be able to have these events at a much smaller scale,” is nice, she said.

“We have no idea who’s going to come out, we have no control, but it’s nice to be out among your vendor friends.”

Reach managing editor Cristina Bolling: cristina@cltledger.com


Today’s supporting sponsors are Soni Brendle

… and Count on Me CLT. To help save lives, jobs and businesses, please wear a mask, wait 6 feet apart and wash your hands often. Visit CountOnMeCLT.com for more information.


Teen talk: Build your vocabulary

Impress and delight the young people in your life by using the words they use. The Ledger shows you how in this occasional Saturday feature.

Today’s phrase: “full send”

Part of speech: Used in combination as a verb

Definition: To do something with no regard for the repercussions or consequences of the action. The action being taken is usually considered to be risky.

Used in a sentence: 

  • “I’ve been working on this English paper for two hours and it’s nowhere near done. Should I submit it anyways?” “Yeah dude, I think you should full send it.”

  • “I think they should just full send it and tear down the Panthers stadium. It’s such an old building.”

Ledger analysis: Seems like a more extreme version of “go for it.”

—Caroline Mecia, age 17


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This week in Charlotte: Candidates visit Charlotte, Covid outbreak at church, car-free development approved

On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.

Politics

  • Harris stops in Charlotte: (Observer) Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris held a rally at Truist Field in Charlotte on Wednesday. She accused President Donald Trump of poor leadership. Harris’ speech, which she gave to an invitation-only crowd of about 250 people, was preceded by an address by Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, who urged attendees to vote.

  • Trump goes to Gastonia: (Observer) At the same time as Harris was speaking in Charlotte, President Donald Trump was at a rally about 20 miles away in Gastonia warning voters about Joe Biden. An estimated 20,000 people were in attendance. Biden leads Trump by about 2.3% in North Carolina, according to recent polls.

  • Voter registration numbers are in: (WFAE) North Carolina has seen some drastic changes in its voter registration tallies compared with 2016. The number of registered Republicans rose while Democrats fell, but the most significant change was in unaffiliated voters, which rose by more than 400,000.

Education

  • Foundation helps instruct at-risk kids: (WFAE) The Steve Smith Family Foundation has helped create a safe learning center in uptown for 100 K-5 students from Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools who live in shelters, hotels or other unstable home environments. The foundation and director Gerald Littlejohn initially were at odds with CMS over their handling of the fall semester, and the learning center reflects significant progress between the two.

  • What happens now for CMS?: (Ledger 🔒 ) The number of Covid cases in Mecklenburg County has risen to the “red” zone on one of the statistical measures officials use to determine if schools should be in-person or virtual. The “red” zone, according to the guides that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools adopted in consultation with the health department, indicates “substantial community spread.” Elementary school buildings are scheduled to open to students Nov. 2.

Local news

  • Church events lead to Covid outbreak: (Observer), (WCNC) At least 100 coronavirus cases and three deaths have been traced to the United House of Prayer for All People after the church held a week of events from Oct. 4-11. Mecklenburg County hosted a no-cost drive through testing site nearby on Thursday and Friday in response.

Business

  • City approves car-free development: (Biz Journal) The City Council narrowly voted to approve a plan by Grubb Properties to build 104 bike-friendly apartments in Seversville, northwest of uptown. With only six parking spaces, it will be Charlotte’s first apartment complex designed to be car-free. Residents must agree not to own cars.

  • New medical campus for UNCC: (Observer) The City of Charlotte granted Novant Health permission to construct a new medical campus near UNC-Charlotte. The 23.5 acre site is still in the planning stages, but aspires to provide greater access to health services in one of the city’s fastest growing areas.

  • What’s ahead for Phillips Place: (Ledger 🔒 ) In an interview with The Ledger, Johnny Harris, CEO of Lincoln Harris and developer of Phillips Place, talked about what could be coming to the upscale SouthPark shopping center, the fate of the movie theater, and why shoppers still want to come experience stores. (He also talked about his penchant for online shopping.)

Voter guides

Voter guides: Early voting is now happening across Charlotte, though Oct. 31. Doing some last-minute research? We’ve got you covered with a selection of handy guides below.

  • Charlotte Agenda’s guide is an easy-to-read tour of the races, with context about why they matter. 

  • The Charlotte Observer’s voter guide allows you to type in your address and view your ballot, with links to information about the candidates and races. 

  • Queen City Nerve, Charlotte’s alternative publication, runs down the main races.

  • WFAE’s guide to important dates, registering, requesting absentee ballots and early voting.

Sports

  • Covid sneaks its way into the Panthers: (Observer) The Carolina Panthers were forced to move four players onto the reserve/Covid-19 list last week, including kicker Joey Slye. The team held virtual practices Monday and Tuesday after the first positive test.

  • Athletic trainers adjust to new roles: (WBTV) With the start of fall sports delayed in most districts, schools’ athletic trainers shifted to helping out at hospitals and testing sites. They have also played a big role in discussions on how to safely resume sports.

Good reads

  • Prisons struggle to contain Covid: (NC Health News) Despite North Carolina Covid cases stabilizing over the summer, infections continued to soar in prisons, spreading through over 10 percent of the state’s inmate population. A third of prisoner Covid deaths occurred in the last month.

  • Here are some nice pictures of trash cans: (Charlotte is Creative) Photographer Brooke Brown went on a visual journey in NoDa after the neighborhood was given an artists’ grant last week. The NoDaRioty Committee used that money to transform all the neighborhood trash cans into colorful spectacles, which Brown captured in full.

  • The mystery of an abandoned cemetery: (QC Nerve) The identities of who is buried at Shuman Cemetery have long been a mystery, but a small group is working to change that. Tommy Beatty, Will Dalen, James Shuman, and others are attempting to not only identify the group but also refurbish the cemetery into what they hope will be a more respectful plot.

  • The messy history of Charlotte’s highways: (Agenda) As Charlotte begins a spur of new transportation and neighborhood improvement projects, city leaders are forced to remember the massive undertaking of constructing highways to aid in vehicular traffic, and the less-discussed, racially infused motivations of separating black communities from the rest of Charlotte.

Ledger exclusives

  • Clear winner emerges in food delivery war: (Wednesday 🔒) The pandemic presented unique opportunities for food delivery companies like GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates to make a little extra coin. In Charlotte, one company soared above the rest this summer.

  • Ledger school diversity dashboard: (Wednesday 🔒)Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools released a slew of school-by-school data last week, so The Ledger sifted through it and created an easy-to-navigate dashboard that enables you to see how much your local school has changed in the past year.

  • Greenway battle, Part 1: (Monday) Residents near Carmel Country Club are rallying against the county’s plan to connect the McAlpine Creek Greenway to their neighborhood. They say their neighborhood already struggles with traffic connected to Charlotte Country Day School’s middle school campus.

  • Greenway battle, Part 2: (Wednesday 🔒) Residents in Park Crossing, off Park Road near South Mecklenburg High School, are suing each other over access to the Little Sugar Creek Greenway.

  • School board member pulls daughter from CMS: (Wednesday 🔒) Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Sean Strain, who has called for a faster reopening for CMS, is sending the youngest of his four daughters to private school. The Ledger talked to him about why he and his wife made that choice.

  • Autobell adapts (Friday 🔒): In the latest in our Beloved Businesses series, executives with Charlotte-based Autobell Car Wash discuss their fortunate timing of developing a disinfecting fog as well as their Covid-related challenges.

  • Happy hour on Thursday: (Details) The Ledger is holding its first-ever virtual happy hour this coming Thursday, Oct. 29, at 5:30 p.m. The invite will go to our paying subscribers. We would love for you to come check it out!


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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith