the winter shadow art fair packs them in

It’s going to take a while for me to fully process what transpired this past weekend at the Shadow Art Fair. On the whole, I’d say that it was a success. There were a few things that didn’t go as well as I would have liked, but, on the whole, it was great. If I had to point out one negative, I’d say that it was too crowded on Friday night. I don’t know what the maximum occupancy of the brewery is, but we must have been close to reaching it. I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, but there are rumors going around that people were being turned away at the door at some point. While I don’t know if that’s true, I do know that both parking lots were full within half an hour of our opening our doors, and, later in the evening, people were telling me that they were parking as much as five blocks away. While great for the event (believe me, not many “craft fair” kinds of things suffer from over-attendance), I don’t know how good it was for the business of our vendors. I may be wrong, but I suspect that we all would have done a bit better sales-wise on Friday if people weren’t so packed in. I think all of us vendors would agree, however, that it was one hell of a good time. The music, the beer, the enthusiasm of the crowd for what it was that we were doing — none of it could have been any better.

My friend Brett, who played Santa at the event, mentioned to me at some point that evening that we, the people behind the Shadow, might have become “victims of our own success.” To some degree, I think he’s right. There were certainly points when it all just seemed too enormous to handle. But, I think, on the whole, we did a pretty good job of navigating our way through it.

Without the bands and the late-night hours, Saturday was a bit more low key. We still had a hell of a lot of people, but the flow was more leisurely. We got a lot of families with kids. People stopped and talked more. My guess, and I could be way off, is that we had 1,800 people over the two days, with most vendors splitting their sales pretty evenly between the two.

I could go on for hours and hours about the event, all the cool things that were there, and all the rest of it, but I suspect that it’s probably better to just throw open the door to comments and let you hear what other, less biased parties, thought of it. (Some local blogs, like Ypsi-Dixit and Sam’s Thoughts, have already started threads of their own.) So, let me know what you thought? Was the vendor mix good? What, if anything, were we missing? Did you like the addition of music? What do you think we could do to make our next event (tentatively scheduled for the weekend of July 20) even better?

And, lastly, I’d like to thank all of you who made it possible. Thanks especially to those of you who came out to spend your holiday money locally. On behalf of all the zine makers, record labels, clothing designers, photographers and other artists that were there, I’d like to tell you that we really do appreciate your support. It means the world to little folks like us. And, with that said, I’d like to thank the vendors, who, knowing about the success of our last event, really stepped up their game and came though with tons and tons of new, exciting, inspirational stuff. (On one hand it kind of sucks in that everything else is, in a sense, competition for the products that Linette and I dream up, but I really do believe that competition is good. And, it’s because of that that I’m really excited to see what everyone comes up with next time. I know we all went home thinking about what worked, what didn’t work, and what might work the next time around.) And thanks to VG Kids, WCBN and the Corner Brewery for their sponsorship, which allowed it all to happen. And thanks to all the bloggers, friends, community members, members of UM and EMU faculty and student body, downtown business owners, etc. that came out to shop or just peek in out of curiosity. And thanks, of course, to the other members of the Michigan Design Militia who planned this whole thing. None of this would have happened if not for Jennifer, Tim, Melissa and Molly… Oh, and an extra-special “thank you” to my friend Nina, who came out and worked the table with me on Friday night, at just a few minute’s notice, when it became clear to Linette and me that Clementine wasn’t going to be able to stay with her grandparents. (She was getting over a stomach bug and really wanted to be near her mother.) I couldn’t have done it without her.

[The above photos were taken in a five-minute span of time on Saturday morning, during an uncharacteristically slow point in the action. Better photos can be found on my friend Amanda’s Flickr page.]

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  1. Anonymatt
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Congratulations. It’s good that your main “problem” was that it was overly popular and successful. It might seem bad to you, but you’ve probably not been used to being overly popular since your days as Valentine King.

    I hope Clementine is better.

  2. ebjorn
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Congrats here, too! Kathryn and I attended both days and found some great holiday gifts. We were never dubious about the turnout, arriving at 7:30 on Friday night to secure a table for the long evening of sitting, drinking, chatting, and taking shifts among those of us at the table to brave the crowd and browse the vendors’ items. (When we got there, both lots were already full, and we assumed that vendor cars and brewery faithful were already there.)

    We found the music a bit loud, as did those who joined us that evening. This was, of course, due in large part to the brick/glass/floor combo that is the brewery that doesn’t give any baffle whatsoever.

    I love the idea of seeing the art fair expand for the summer show, and like that it could spill into the beer garden, and even into the parking lot on the north side of the brewery (some big tents, entrance to those tents via the beer garden gates). I’m assuming people were parking in the Michigan Ladder lot as well as down in the Depot Town lot. Maybe you need a Shadow Art Fair Shuttle?

    (Wondering: MotorWheel has some large concrete lots half a block north of the brewery. Any attempts to contact the owner of the property to see about overflow parking there?)

    — Eric

  3. Dale
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    How about an estimate/calculation of the economic impact of the SAF (insofar as possible)? Attendance?

    It’s one thing to say, “there was this really great event at the Corner Brewery,” and quite another to say “this wholly grassroots effort to promote local arts/crafts/culture people brought in $20,000 of revenue to them and another $10,000 to local businesses.”

    Yep, the planners want data. Anyway, great work.

  4. edweird
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Friday night was very crowded. So much so that the people that I came with wanted to leave before I had time to finish my first beer. Still found time to spend a little $$$, though. I had planned on coming the next day, but alas it wasn’t in the stars.

  5. Hyuckett
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Part of the problem on Friday night too was that it was so cold outside and so warm inside…I could barely get down the aisles of vendors with my big puffy coat in my arms, let alone open my (too large) bag to get out my wallet. Just another reason the July incarnation of this event may go more smoothly!

  6. Jennyfurann
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    My husband and I went on Saturday, and bought quite a bit of stuff. Mainly for me – the holiday “little sumthin’ for myself…” but a gift or two as well. — I have to say, I picked up 3 beautiful portraits by John Clark. I am completely in love.

    One thing that would be nice to know is, do any of the vendors sell their goods in some of the local businesses? I know there were a quite a few places with websites, but some things you have to physically see in person to fully appreciate. It would be nice to know that there were places in Ypsi that you could buy these goods at year ’round, for those of us a with a jones in the middle of February… Seems like another good way to shop local and support local artisans.

  7. Dave
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your suspicion that the overcrowding of Friday night may have hurt sales. I waded through and looked at everything, but as I really dislike being crowded, I didn’t spend that much time trying to shop. I spent most of that night at the bar drinking and talking to friends instead.

    On Saturday, I did most of my buying, since it was less crowded and you could actually look at something without someone pushing past you and knocking you over on top of some poor vendor’s display.

    I did not like the music: For one, it was too loud and distracting and for another, the acoustics of the Corner Brewery are dreadful so it’s not possible to truly hear anything like that anyway. With the exception of “bitch,” I could not make out a single word Davy Rothbart said. Everything else sounded like the teacher from the animated Peanuts cartoons: “waaa waaa waahhhwww waaaw.”

    Anyway, thanks to Matt and Rene Greff and Mark and all the other vendors for putting this on. I had a great time.

  8. ol' e cross
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Although I do enjoy anonymous folks rubbing up against by buttocks, I generally don’t do well walking through, let alone shopping, such closer quarters. Given time and space, I’d of bought more stuff.

    On Jenny’s note, I wonder if the design militia could comandere a local space that could run kind of like the Clay Gallery in A2, where all artisans and a few groupies took an occassional shift manning the store.

    I also wonder if the rent could be kept down if the store, at least initially, was somewhat transient, i.e., temporily filling a vacant space downtown until the space was rented, then hopping down a couple doors to next place. (Like housesitting, but storefront sitting.)

    I’m guessing this would require some ordinance flexibility from the city, but right now we’re putting window dressing in stores to make them look occupied, why not have a store where the window dressing was for sale?

  9. mike_1630
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m so sad I didn’t get to go :( this is going to leave long-lasting scars…

  10. Ted Glass
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I liked the woman handing out photos of engorged taste buds being dragged over the surface of her eye. Please have her back.

    I’d also like ot report that I came out of the experience without a runny bottom.

  11. murph
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    OEC –

    Just off the cuff, I don’t think there’d be any issue with the zoning ordinance with an SAF Storefront – I think everything sold at the SAF would be easily acceptable as “personal use retail” or “destination retail” (sorry, not actually looking at the ZO at the moment). Where I think you’d have a problem is with building & fire safety codes, where I don’t know how much flexibility is possible/desirable.

    Now, you mention “window dressing for sale” – I’ve heard Mark and others propose the idea of art installations in empty storefronts, to dress ’em up, and maybe a “pure window shopping” approach would be possible, where an artist or two has an exhibit in the storefront windows, with “for pricing and purchase information, please call…”, and maybe the owner of the space gets paid a percentage on commission or something, rather than rent. It might be easier to meet safety-oriented codes if you’re proposing something where nobody actually ever enters the space but the owner. But that’s a question for the Building Dept.

    Another approach might be space-sharing with somebody who’s already meeting building & fire codes. Arrange to sell some items within The Rocket. Or, I can think of a few storefronts downtown that are silent between April 16 and December 31 each year…

  12. mark
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    It’s difficult to estimate the dollar amount, Dale. I suspect that a few vendors, over the two days, broke the $1,000 mark. People often don’t feel comfortable talking about such things, but I know for instance that one vendor made “5 times” at this show what he did at the last one. Another told me that she sold about 25 of an item that retailed for $25, in addition to other stuff. So, like I said, some people did very well. I suspect, on average, vendors sold about $500 dollars in merchandise each (of which probably only about half is profit). As there were about 45 vendors, that would be $22,500. It’s hard to say how much of that money stayed in Ypsi though. Then, of course, there’s the brewery’s take, which I assume was substantial. And, there were all the people going out to eat at Sidetrack, ordering food from Luwak, etc. So, while difficult to estimate, I think it’s pretty substantial.

    And the idea of opening a storefront is one that I’ve considered, but, as for right now, I personally prefer the impact of a large event. And, I suspect that having a store would lessen that impact.

    As for music, I didn’t hear much of it back where I was. What I did hear, however, didn’t seem too loud, with the exception of a few hoots and hollers from Patrick Elkins. I’m sure that a few people would have preferred that we not have had music, but I suspect that there were more that came out because of it. I have to discuss it with the rest of the Michigan Design Militia gang, but I’d like to keep music a part of it.

  13. mark
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    And, as for putting money right back into the economy, here’s a good illustration… All the t-shirts and stuff that we sold, were made at VG Kids, here in town. (And we spent quite a bit more on printing that we took in in revenue.) And, of the money that we made, at least $200 of it went into the pockets of other vendors. We bought notebooks from James, a knitted hat from the Lullaboos folks, mittens from Lekkner, a peg-leg pirate sock monkey from Daisy Sewing, and all kinds of other stuff, not to mention the beer and food from the brewery. And, I don’t think that we were that unusual. I think that a lot of us ended up spending a lot of the money we made over the two days.

  14. muppster
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    i agree it would be worthwhile to get a bit better estimate of the economic impact. since the vendor surveys are anonymous, could you make another one where we just enter total sales? then maybe get a number from the corner in terms of how much above average volume they were? it’s been great to have that data– even though estimated– from our farmer’s market.

  15. Mark H.
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    The Winter SAF was terrific fun, lots of beautiful things and wonderful people. Thanks!

  16. mark
    Posted December 4, 2006 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    That’s a good suggestion, Amanda, and I will take it back to the planning committee when we meet on Wednesday.

  17. Jennifer
    Posted December 5, 2006 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I finally calculated my sales over the two-day event. The number of hours of the winter fair was roughly 1.5x the summer hours, and my sales were roughly 1.5x my summer sales. I think I did fine!

    On the storefront note…there *WAS* a storefront in Ypsilanti that sold all kinds of items by independent designers, many of them local, many of those local designers were at the SAF. The store could not afford to stay open.

    I have been asked by several local leaders to re-open my store or to organize a shared-store with other designers. Honestly, it’s a prospect I can’t wrap my head around right now. So I’m politely listening to requests, but emotionally and physically doing nothing about them. It’s not the right time for me.

  18. todd l.
    Posted December 6, 2006 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Although I couldn’t make it to either of the Ypsi fairs, I think that this is absolute GENIUS. What a great way to promote community. Sounds like you’ll need heated tents for the next one!

    Bully for the Greffs, Mark M., and most importantly, YPSI!

    It sure looks like there’s a bit of a rebirth going on in Ypsi.

    I’ve certainly taken note.

    Happy Holidays!

    todd l.

  19. mark
    Posted December 7, 2006 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Thanks for dropping in, Todd. It’s nice to know that we’ve got your attention.

    As for local economic impact, I just got a note from a Depot Town merchant and he said that his sales were up 15% on the Saturday of the SAF over that same Saturday the year before. I don’t know how much we can take credit for that, but it’s pretty cool to think that we might have helped a bit.

  20. adorset
    Posted December 12, 2006 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Lish here from Handmade Detroit. Thanks for such a fun, PACKED event!

    We actually did better on Friday night than we did Saturday during the day. We sold out most of our stuff by late Saturday afternoon!

    Steph and I attended the summer event with HD and did well, but we did much better this time. I think it’s a great idea to have fairs like this right before the holidays because it gives people some more cost-efficient, unique gift ideas. I also found that more people are really out “to shop” instead of just looking around to see what’s new.

    I’d be interested to see how the event would do if it were back to just one day, but running longer with bands playing at the end of the night? Kind of combining the two days into one big day? We added music to our latest HD fair at the Magic Stick this past weekend, as we had shoppers request it, so I think the entertainment component is great.

    Again, thanks for a great time. Let’s keep these fairs comin’!

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