LF Arts and Crafts Fair ‘big party’ weekend highlights community cooperation

By David Hoadley, Correspondent

Carrying their purchases at the 2013 Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair, are Char Haber, left, of St. Joseph and her daughter, Stacey Runke of Delano. The two had been visiting the Crafts Fair for 21 years.
Carrying their purchases at the 2013 Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair, are Char Haber, left, of St. Joseph and her daughter, Stacey Runke of Delano. The two had been visiting the Crafts Fair for 21 years.

The Minnesota State Fair is closing. Schools are opening. Labor Day weekend allows one last summer fling. And Little Falls will soon swell more than 10 times its normal population for two days.

The 42nd annual Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair runs Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 6 – 7 and, according to Deb Boelz, president/CEO of the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, about 100,000 people will take part in the weekend’s events.

Besides handmade crafts, the fair includes the Marketplace Fair, where commercially produced items are available.

The West Side Improvement Association offers its 12th annual Antiques and Collectibles Fair at Le Bourget Park.

And on Sunday, the Lone Eagle Auto Club is hosting its 40th annual Car Show and Swap Meet at the Morrison County Fairgrounds.

One theme is common among the leaders of the weekend’s sponsors: hope for a comeback from the monsoon-like rain that washed out the Sunday of the 2013 weekend.

“We have 580 vendors this year; last year we had 604,” Boelz said.

“Our cars are down because of last year’s rain we believe,” said Wayne Hansmann, president of the Lone Eagle Auto Club. “Our swappers are down. At this particular time last year, we would have had much more now.”

About 50 vendors are expected at the Antiques and Collectibles Show, co-chair Deb Retka said. “It’ll be a little bit down (from last year) unless people see the weather is good,” Retka said. Last year’s show brought in about 60 exhibitors.

But despite the slightly lower numbers, the mood is positive about the 2014 weekend. New will mix with old throughout the town.

“We have 97 new vendors,” Boelz said. That includes six new food vendors, 14 new vendors in the Marketplace and 77 new craft vendors. There will also be a few new looks to how the vendors are set up.” A realignment of the government center parking lot and the park west of the post office are among the changes.

“We are expecting more shoppers this year because Sunday when it did rain out, people needed their fix. So hopefully they will be back, and the weather will cooperate as well,” said Boelz.

“It’s just going to be a great weekend in town,” she said. “Our local Flyers have their first football game on Friday, so that always brings a few extra people in town into the mix.”

“We’re expecting 50 to 60 used cars in our corral for sale,” said Hansmann. “We’re expecting, amount of vehicles total, I would estimate 450 to 500 again, that’s what we’re hoping for — 500’s our goal.” He said about 150 swappers will also be there with various car parts to sell and trade. A couple of old favorites will be available at the fairgrounds as well.

“The Lindbergh Saxon will be there again,” Hansmann said. “And I’ve already been informed by the St. Cloud car club, the Pantowners, the Pan car will be there on display.”

That refers to one of the approximately 735 cars made in St. Cloud by Sam Pandolfo in the late 1910s.

Something new at the fairgrounds will be what Karen Hansmann, Wayne’s wife, calls a “women’s building.” Much like the Marketplace Fair, this building will showcase various crafts and commercially produced products for the home.

And since this year the car show celebrates its 40th year, the participants get a little bonus, too.

“We’re giving out goodie bags this year for our 40th year,” Karen said. “Kind of in honor of, we lost four members since last car show. One of our co-members that passed away had all kinds of goodie bags and stuff to go in them so we’re going around getting more stuff to put in them.”

“Things are coming along,” Retka said. “People are calling and we’re getting their spots ready.”

She said that a few new vendors come to the show each year but final numbers will depend on the last days before the weekend.

The weekend is the coming together of an entire community to make for a successful experience for both vendors and shoppers. More than 100 local businesses provide funds for the Auto Club’s trophies.

“There’s 34 classes. We give out three trophies, guaranteed three trophies in each class,” Hansmann said. Voting for the show cars is by participants, but the public votes for a People’s Choice winner, as well as various other awards.

Boelz said the Fair relies on a lot of involvement from local people, including city employees, non-profit groups, volunteers and even those serving community service hours.

“Every vendor that comes into town that we license has to pay a $15 license fee,” Boelz said. “And that money is given to the city. So the Arts and Crafts Fair does pay for staff time for city employees so this isn’t a burden on them. The city does such a great job.

“We do use Sentenced to Serve,” she said. “They actually help us put up picnic tables on Friday and then Sentenced to Serve really deserves a pat on the back, because they’re the ones who come out and walk the town early Monday morning to make it look like this event did not happen.

“We have about 12 non-profit groups that work for us during the fair raising money,” said Boelz. “It’s one less time that our non-profits have to ask the business community for money. And they’re able to do their programming year-round because of the money that they raise here.

“It takes about 100 volunteers to make this work,” Boelz said. “So we try and treat our vendors so well they go out and talk to other people and say what a wonderful time they had in Little Falls.”

There is never a shortage of good food, whether shoppers prefer crafts, antiques, or classic cars. Four food courts will be set up around the downtown and west side areas.

At the Fairgrounds, the Lone Eagle club will start serving breakfast at 7 a.m. Sunday and switch to a lunch of burgers, brats, chicken sandwiches and more, Hansmann said. Plus popcorn, soda, candy bars, nachos and the like will be available all day.

So what’s the secret to the longevity of the Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair when others are struggling?

“I think our geographic location is something,” said Boelz. “We just do a good show for people. It truly is a very eclectic mix of items and when you draw vendors from 25 states, you see different genres of stuff,” she said.

Boelz said many of the same vendors and shoppers return year after year, which adds to the fun.

“It’s really fun,” she said. “We have the same block hosts that have been back for many years, and they’ve gotten to know the vendors so well.”

Retka agreed friendships are created over many years.

“It’s like a little village,” she said. “They look forward to coming to our show. It’s a perfect spot on the river.”

“This first weekend after Labor Day has just become our fair,” said Boelz.

When all is said and done, though, the weekend is important for the city.

“A lot of the proceeds that the Chamber has made over the years has been re-invested in the community,” Boelz said.

“It is an economic boost for our community. Our restaurants, our bars, the non-profits, the hotels. It’s everybody,” she said.

Hansmann said each year usually someone learns about the car club.

“We always gain members after the show or the day of the show they join,” said Hansmann. “They seem like they just have so much fun that they join.”

He hopes the car show can introduce a new generation to classic cars.

All eyes will be on the skies for the weekend, but no matter what, the vibes remain positive.

“We’re very upbeat,” Hansmann said.

Boelz was even more enthusiastic.

“It feels like we’re throwing a big party, and you hope someone comes — and they do. And we get so excited,” she said.