Craft fairs provide holiday shopping alternative

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
Colchester/Marlborough - posted Mon., Nov. 21, 2011
Maria Napoli (left) and Kristina Henry look over some of the jewelry on display at the Marlborough Congregational Church Vendor Bazaar. Photos by Kevin Hotary.
Maria Napoli (left) and Kristina Henry look over some of the jewelry on display at the Marlborough Congregational Church Vendor Bazaar. Photos by Kevin Hotary.

For many people, the holiday shopping season begins on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, when many stores open their doors at increasingly earlier hours, often luring in shoppers before dawn for a few frantic hours of special deals.

But some others prefer a more laid-back approach to shopping, one where they can take the time to appreciate the items, and maybe even chat with the maker, all while sipping a freshly-brewed coffee and enjoying a slice of fresh-baked apple pie.

Last Saturday, Nov. 19, marked the unofficial opening of the holiday craft fair season, as different groups in the towns of Colchester and Marlborough alone played host to no less than four fairs.

“It’s always held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving,” said Nancy Michaud, organizer of the Holiday Fair hosted by the Harrington Court healthcare center in Colchester. Harrington has been hosting a holiday fair for 30 years, with the funds raised going to the Residents Council for events and activities throughout the year. The timing of the fair allows the center “to get a jump on people starting their shopping,” Michaud said.

While a variety of outside vendors exhibit at the Holiday Fair, the highlight is the crafts made by the residents, which this year included Christmas tree ornaments and logs decorated for the holidays. The crafts, which incorporate as much recycled material as possible, motivate the residents, and provide “something for everybody to do to utilize their skills,” said Harrington Court employee Cathi Russi.

“They are really pretty,” said Shirley Gauthier of the ornaments, some of which she helped construct. So pretty, in fact, that the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford will feature the ornaments in its “Festival of Trees and Traditions” this holiday season.

After 30 years of holiday fairs, planning the Harrington Court event is not so difficult. “We’ve been doing it so long we already know what to do,” said Michaud. But for Kate LaMantia and Maggie Hannon, it’s all new.

“This is our first annual one,” said LaMantia, who, together with Hannon, organized the “Vendor Bazaar” at Marlborough Congregational Church. “I just thought it would be fun,” said LaMantia of the bazaar, which featured 11 crafters and vendors, including the church youth group, which was selling home-made apple pies. LaMantia learned the ropes of hosting a fair by networking with other organizers in the area, she said, and hopes to turn the bazaar into a yearly event. “I’ve met a lot of really nice people,” she said.

Across town at American Legion Post 197, the Women’s Auxiliary of the Marlborough Volunteer Fire Department was hosting its 10th annual craft fair, organized by Kim Sibiga. The fair used to be held earlier in the year, she said, but once they held it just before Thanksgiving, “it became a holiday shopping event.” The fair features all handmade goods, and is organized by Sibiga, who is a crafter herself, so she has “learned what you should do as an organizer,” she said.

One of the more eclectic tables at the fair was that of Marilyn Ulion, a well-known member of the Marlborough Arts Center. She featured knitted goods, photographs and hand-made jewelry. “That’s my style,” she said. “I like to learn new things, and I haven’t learned anything I don’t like yet.”

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