written by Jessica Conti photos by Svetla Morrison
Before there was Crafty Mart, there was Juniper Sage and J Hudson, crossing paths as sellers at Cleveland Bazaar and a handful of other craft events. None of them in Akron, however. So, it wasn’t long before they discovered they
shared something in common: a shared disinterest in always having to go away to do what could have been done closer to their homes.
During frequent weekend visits to Square Records—where Sage is a co-owner with her husband, David Ignizio—she and Hudson decided to “shut up or put up.”
The idea was simple: create an indie craft fair in Akron. In 2009, that’s what they did with The Crafty Mart, a bi-annual craft fair that catered to a wide variety of handmade interests held at Musica in downtown Akron.
They it would to catch on. They never anticipated that it would grow so rapidly or become as successful as it has.
The idea isn’t a new one. Indie craft fairs happen in just about every major city, including Cleveland. Akron is the kind of city that prides itself on being, well, itself. It’s not just logical that Akronites would want their very own independent arts fair, but equally unsurprising that it would do well.
“Akron doesn’t say ‘no’,” Sage says. “I have a feeling most Midwest towns of a decent size are like this but I am continually pleased by my adopted home and its positivity.”
At the first Crafty Mart in 2009, vendor fees were kept low to ensure local creative would be interested and be able to participate. Frankly, Sage and Hudson weren’t sure who would show and what would sell. Their desire to have something like Crafty Mart was matched by an enthusiasm from residents across the area to attend something like Crafty Mart.
“I went to the Crafty Mart to check out the eclectic people that share a love for crafts like I do, but what brings me back is the opportunity to pick up a piece of unique jewelry or some art that I otherwise would never been able to find,” said Nicole Holodnak of Massillon.
In the summer of 2011, Brittany Charek, once a Crafty Mart vendor and now its executive director, threw her own craft event, the Rowdy Indie Craft Fair. Like Sage and Hudson, she’d grown tired of always having to go to Cleveland for events. Her effort proved successful enough that she was asked to join the team—and eventually to lead it.
A teacher by day—Crafty Mart won’t employ her until this summer when she starts part-time—Charek says she has worked hard to expand the original vision into an event that is more than the typical arts fair. Despite the successful turnout, the money the event collected from vendor fees didn’t cover the cost of operation even though it was entirely run by volunteers. Around this time last year, she almost threw in the towel. Something had to change.
“I couldn’t figure out how to take this passion project I inherited from hobby to full-fledged sustainable business, and was getting to the point where I couldn’t justify the amount of time and money that I was throwing into it personally, and how much it was taking me away from my family and my day job,” she says.
Charek sought outside opinions about ways to make the event successful on all fronts, reaching out to board members and personal friends. Rob Lehr, the marketing and communications director at the Canton Museum of Art, was one. He suggested expanding beyond Musica and then helped connect Crafty Mart with Summit Artspace and the Akron Art Museum to keep the event downtown as she wanted. Now, these two venues are also part of the Mom and Pop Shoppe. Every first Saturday of the month, the Artspace hosts the Pop-Up Market during the Downtown Akron Artwalk.
The two big anchor events take place in April (Mom and Pop Shoppe) and November (Crafty Mart). In May, there’s a pop-up at Thirsty Dog, and this summer, Charek is helping organize and promote the Akron Farm and Flea at Musica. Despite the number of events, each vendor is still hand-selected by a panel of jurors to ensure a certain level of quality and to provide a variety of experiences—from treats and knit bonnets for babies to locally-roasted coffee and all-natural hand creams. Many vendors are returning after participating in previous years, and while some of the creators come from beyond the borders of Ohio, several hail from the Akron area.
The fair can be as unique an experience for the vendors as it is for the attendees. First-time vendors Deanna Guerrieri and Sarah Moynihan, of My Beverly Designs, were in awe.
“Crafty Mart is an excellent example of a group of people that are not giving up on keeping the arts and creative minds alive. We live in wild world full of technology; things are so easily made because of this, so much gets overlooked and underappreciated. We feel it’s super important to keep creation alive and events like these inspire people.”
To take that vision another step further, organizers have also started offering workshops taught by local creatives to help share knowledge, inspire each other and bring a hands-on learning experience to anyone interested. While the workshops aren’t free, the money goes towards the materials used to create the project.
At the Mom and Pop Shoppe, on April 25, Crafty Mart will host four workshops: basic weaving, how-to brew Kombucha, D.I.Y sugar scrubs and terrariums. The workshops physically bring members of the community together and allow them to form bonds with one another via art.
The organization recently received its 501(c)3 nonprofit status, which opens it up to more grants and corporate sponsorships, moving it away from vendor fees as the only source of income. Coupled with the additional monthly events and other partnerships, Crafty Mart, as an organization, is evolving organically, but the core of what makes it work is still Akron’s creative community. From “an enthusiastic board of directors who aren’t afraid of working hard” to volunteers and vendors—everything has come together through teamwork to turn Crafty Mart into a staple event.
While Charek doesn’t know where the future will take Crafty Mart, she believes it’s much bigger than just providing retail experiences to Akron.
“Crafty Mart is more than just a place to shop—it’s a community event,” she says. “It’s a place where you can spend the whole day exploring, socializing, learning, trying delicious food—while being exposed to local arts and culture.”