Arts and Crafts Fair in its 41st year; Antique and Collectibles in 11th and car show, swap meet nearing 40
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
For decades, the Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair, sponsored by the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, has filled the streets of the city. More than 100,000 shoppers, vendors and food lovers, are expected the weekend after Labor Day, this year Sept. 7 – 8.
In 2002, the West Side Improvement Association joined in the fun, adding its Antiques and Collectibles Fair at Le Bourget Park on the banks of the Mississippi in west Little Falls.
The Lone Eagle Auto Club began taking advantage of visitors to the fair, holding its car show and swap meet at the Morrison County Fairgrounds the Sunday of the craft fair weekend.
The Arts and Crafts Fair
The Arts and Crafts Fair is in its 41st year. More than 600 vendors will come from 27 states, including Minnesota and neighboring states, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. But some will come from as far away as California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, to satisfy the taste of every shopper.
When the fair started in 1972, it was a one-day affair, organized and sponsored by the local Graf’s Hobby Shop. At that time, 79 vendors showed their wares on downtown Little Falls’ sidewalks.
The Chamber started sponsoring the event in 1975, and had 90 vendors take part. It wasn’t until 1980 that the decision was made to save the weekend after Labor Day each year for the event. In 1985, the fair became a two-day event and in 1986, it had grown to include 556 vendors.
In following years, free remote parking and shuttle service would be offered (1989), west side vendors would be added (1991) and the food court set up (1996).
In 1997, the 25th anniversary of the crafts fair, 1,000 vendors, the largest number in the fair’s history, showed up. Although vendor numbers haven’t been that high since, shoppers still pour into the city, some coming back for decades.
Until last year, only vendors offering handmade craft items were allowed. In 2012, “Market Place” was first staged on the west side of Little Falls in front of the Chamber offices on First Avenue Northwest. It opened the weekend to those selling items such as Tastefully Simple, Tupperware, Norwex, Boji Toe Rings, Babygirlz Boutique, Avon, Pampered Chef, Scentsy, Thirty-one Gifts, Tressies Hair Extensions and more.
Deb Boelz, CEO/president of the Chamber, said every year there’s always some new thing that becomes “the” popular item of the fair.
This year, Boelz predicted it would be Friends of Firkin’s can cozies that come with a glove attached.
“It’s one of those novelty items,” she said, “A couple of years ago, it was the Hillbilly wine glass — Mason jars on a stem — there’s always that something that’s quirky that everybody has got to have.”
There will be a lot of new jewelry, “very creative jewelry,” said Boelz. “Jewelry is such a hot item and when you get vendors from all over the country, you get that different flavor to what they put together.”
A new coffee grower will be at the fair for the first time, “Organo Gold Coffee,” said Boelz. “She’s going to be selling some fun mixtures.”
A couple of new food vendors will pique the interest of fair-goers, as they did for Boelz.
One new food vendor is “WONderTONS,” said Boelz. “The wontons are deep fried, with fruit and cream cheese filling or a pumpkin and cream cheese. They do a s’more, a chocolate and marshmallow one and also have a spiral apple coated and deep fried and served with cinnamon and caramel.”
Boelz said the new Prairie Bay Food Truck from Brainerd will be a first-timer, located on Kidder Street.
For the health conscious, Boelz said the “Wrap Shack” is another new food vendor. “They have different kinds of wraps, a little bit healthier, not everything is deep-fried.”
The Antiques and Collectibles Fair
In its 11th year, many of the 50 vendors are returning, with several new joining the group.
Deb Retka, a member of the WSIA, said new vendors will showcase antique furniture, adding to past crowd favorites and three food vendors.
Retka said a parking area is located nearby, with $5 parking. Many take advantage of the shuttle buses running from the Morrison County Fairgrounds, which make a stop at the Cass Gilbert Depot, very near the antiques fair. But, Retka said, many fair-goers love to take a ride across the Mississippi River with the “Let’s Go Fishing” crew, which offers pontoon rides as a fundraiser. The rides start at Kiwanis Park in east Little Falls and head across to Le Bourget Park.
“We’d like to see everybody,” said Retka. “Come down and visit.”
Any money generated from the Antiques and Collectibles Fair is used by the WSIA for community improvements on the west side.
The most recent project was helping to fix up the ball diamond at the former Jaycee Park, now known as the Little Falls Lindbergh Lions Recreational Complex on the west side.
“It’s gorgeous,” said Retka. “Everyone should check it out.”
Lone Eagle Auto Club Car Show and Swap Meet
The Lone Eagle Auto Club, started in 1973 by a group of old car buffs, has welcomed others who enjoy vintage vehicles to its car show and swap meet, held rain or shine, for nearly 40 years.
In the early years, the car show and swap meet were held in June, when the Club had to deal with rain, then moved to October, when sleet was a problem. Back then, it was held at the Fairgrounds when it was in town and sometimes at the Little Falls Airport.
In 1982, the Club decided to take advantage of the crowds the Arts and Crafts Fair brought in. Since parking is available at the Morrison County Fairgrounds for the fair, many shoppers head to the fair, while their spouses stay at the car show.
The Car Show and Swap Meet is held the Sunday of Arts and Crafts weekend, this year, Sunday, Sept. 8.
It opens at 7 a.m. and guests can enjoy breakfast until the food runs out. Once breakfast is over, the concession stand opens with brats and burgers and refreshments.
The car show runs until 3:30 p.m., when trophies are awarded in the 34 classes, as well as two President’s Choice (one for a car, one for a motorcycle) awards, a People’s Choice, Club Participant and the Jim Gilbertson Award. The Jim Gilbertson Award is given to the club bringing the most cars to the show and is named in honor a past Auto Club member.
A new trophy this year is the first annual Sears Craftsman trophy, being offered by Dan Drilling, owner of Sears in Little Falls. The winner of this trophy will also receive a $50 gift card good at the Sears store.
Lone Eagle Auto Club President Wayne Hansmann said classes include not just cars, but motorcycles and rat rods.
“Those (rat rods) are rust buckets that people put together and that’s the way they drive them,” he said. “They put a newer style motor in most of them — they’re something to see. There’s a lot to see and it’s a full day.”
About 500 vehicles are expected to be on display and last year, 3,000 people visited.
“Come on over,” said Hansmann. “It’s a reasonable rate to get in, and it’s quite a sight to see.”
At the swap meet, many car parts are up for sale, as well as cars in the used car corral.
Those who start the day at the car show get a stamp, so if they want to take in the fairs downtown, they don’t have to pay again to get back in to the car show.
Overnight camping facilities are available at the Morrison County Fairgrounds by calling the Fair Office at (320) 632-1040.
The Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair and the Antiques and Collectibles Fair hours are 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 and 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8.
The Morrison County Fairgrounds, where parking and shuttle bus service is available, is located one mile north of Highway 27 on County Road 43, 15575 Hawthorn Road — easily found using a GPS device.
Shuttle buses will run in a loop from 7 a.m. until the last shopper has found their way back to their vehicle at the Fairgrounds.