|By Connie Swaim
Over the last few days I’ve been pondering what to say about the County Living Fair held in Morrow, Ohio, Sept. 28-30. Nothing I’ve come up with seems adequate.
Wow, amazing, never seen anything like it, fantastic, are all words that come to mind, but yet they do not convey what I witnessed on the opening day of the show, which was held on the grounds of The Workshops of David T. Smith.
I think the best description is this: imagine a swarm of locust. The locust first appear on the horizon in just a few numbers, but suddenly the numbers swell and soon as far as the eye can see there are locust. The locust then come through the field and when they are gone a few hours later, there is nothing left but some shell-shocked dealers and overflowing trash cans.
I think this best sums up what I saw. According to pre-event publicity sent out by the show, which is sponsored by Country Living magazine, 6,000 shoppers were expected for the entire show. But, about 7,000 people turned up the first day. While I haven’t gotten the official numbers of the show yet, one of the vendors talked to someone at the gate on the last day who said almost 20,000 people came through. In the 21 years I have been with AntiqueWeek, it was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.
Here are some statistics: It was a 45 minute wait in line for the restrooms and there were 15 portajohns on the grounds. At the height of the lunch rush, it was easily an hour wait in line for food. The lemonade stand ran out of both ice and water before noon. After waiting in a food line for almost an hour, one woman told me that when it was finally her turn to order she discovered there was nothing left but crème broulle, sauerkraut balls and warm cherry Coke. "I told them I would take it," she said. After all, what’s a hungry shopper to do to keep her strength up?
Another woman told me she was glad her husband hadn’t come with her as she had to wait in line for three hours on the road just to get into the show grounds. "He would have turned around and left," she said. The woman selling gourmet dog biscuits had about 10 bags of biscuits left at the end of the show on Friday and she was just standing in the middle of her booth wondering what to do. She had been baking for days and had thought she had enough biscuits for the entire three-day show.
One of the antique dealers at the show said she ran out of bags in the first three hours and had to go buy bags from any other vendors. Another antique dealer said she ran out of paper to wrap purchases with. And yet another antique dealer just stared at me with a glazed expression when I spoke with him an hour before the show closed on the first day. "It’s been busy," was all he managed to say, then he just sat down looking utterly exhausted. A woman selling pillows made of vintage fabric made trip after trip to her vehicle to get more pillows. At the end of the day I asked her how many she had sold and she said she had lost count at 100.
So, what was up with this show? I had just been to an antique show the weekend before that was like walking through a mausoleum. No one was buying, no one was smiling, no one was selling.
I think it was a combination of factors. First, this was not an antique show. The Country Living Fair was a mixture of antiques, high end craft booths, a farmer’s market, and live entertainment. The show was managed by Stella Show Management Co. Bright and early on set up day, Irene Stella herself was out directing last-minute vendors who were setting up and overseeing the placement of the chairs in the food vendor’s area.
The show’s management had hand-picked many of the antique dealers and the artisans who set up at the show and achieved just the right mix it seemed of what people wanted. Obviously, the Country Living connection was huge. Whoever their marketing director was I hope he or she got a huge bonus as there were people at the event from all over the United States and Canada and most of them seemed to be staying for at least two days of the show.
Then there was the location and the weather. No one could have asked for a more perfect combination. David Smith’s workshops are set on lovely rolling hills surrounded by ponds and pastures full of cattle. Two calves greeted shoppers as they came through the gates. Mother Nature cooperated. After two days of rain, the opening day of the show dawned bright and sunny and temperatures stayed mild with a cooling breeze.
While antiquing purists may not have enjoyed the show because it wasn’t all antique dealers, for me it was an awesome mix. I browsed through some great antique booths, and some great booths offering decorative items made with vintage pieces such as pillows made from vintage quilts or fabric, or purses made from vintage fabric. Then there were the artisans. This was not a craft fair where people were selling the same old candles. There was a couple spinning pewter and selling what they made on the spot. A woman was doing theorem painting and other was cutting silhouettes. There was a broom maker, a dulcimer maker and several potters who were working. For $3 you could make your own corn husk doll.
An antique dealer told me perhaps the real reason this show was so successful. He said in his opinion most antique shows spend all of their money trying to get X number of dealers to fill X number of spaces. The show managers don’t care what the people are selling, they just need to fill the spaces to make their money. He said this show spent all of its money on getting shoppers, and not just any shoppers, but they managed to market to people who were willing to spend money on both antiques and artisan made items.
This event certainly proved that the economy is not sluggish all of the time and that antique dealers set up at shows can make money if they have what the shoppers want and if the show gets the shoppers through the door.
This was the second Country Living Fair. Wherever the third one is next year, I plan to be there.