Craft shows, boat shows, or trade shows all have two things in common; vendors and customers. Customers think they are hunting for deals, and vendors look for profit and cash flow. It’s a lame vendor who doesn’t maximize all possible advantages and minimize chance. Who your neighbors are can be an essential part of how profitable and enjoyable the show can be.
One year I was doing a cluster of shows produced by a company that specialized in some of the prime tourist territories in New Hampshire. Her shows were fronted by a solid kernel of authentic crafts and backed by an assortment of people who modified pre-produced items, painted wood, did cheap florals, or sold imported items. While all art was supposedly juried, the process was sloppy. As a result, there were “pods” of real craftspeople among the resellers of cheap Chinese goods, “grandma” crafts, and those who did not know why they were there.
I was frequently paired with Betty, who sold some of the most exquisite teddy bears you’ve seen, and Paul and Cheri – retired ministers- who turned pens, automatic pencils, and other lathe-turned work. Harry, a potter, was on the opposing row behind us. Betty, Paul, and Cheri were great neighbors. We looked out for each other during bathroom and eating breaks, helped each other out in numerous small things, and importantly, observed the prime directive – thou shalt not have your stuff in your neighbor’s booth.
Harry never seemed to have gotten the messages about playing nice with the other children. Instead, he always asked us to watch his booth while visiting other booths (“walking the show”). He was never available to keep an eye on your stuff when a bathroom break was needed, and his boxes of pottery were always getting into other people’s booths.
Betty always had more material than I did, and knowing that I had young children at home always worked a generous exchange; some of my excess space for stuffed toys for the kids. She was a genuine arctophile – lover of teddy bears- and some of the nicer bears my kids got to play with came from her. Paul and Cheri were always immaculate and self-contained.
Harry was the problem. His large, heavy containers intruded into his neighbor’s space all the time. Complaints to the show producers seemed to do no good. His lame excuses seemed calculated to insult rather than apologize.
These shows were held in large tents, and while some booths had canvas backing, others did not. You can hear what goes on around and behind you. So we heard Harry bad-mouthing Betty to a customer.
Later that afternoon, Betty finished a voodoo doll that looked a lot like Harry. I contributed a wooden stake to go through the embroidered heart, and while Paul, a Christian indeed, refused to participate, Cheri contributed some pins to stab the doll. We left it in Harry’s empty cash box to discover when he opened his booth the next day.
Over the years, I’ve seen some nasty things done to rotten show producers, artists, and even customers. It’s rare, but it happens when people get pushed to the edge of civility and tolerance. But I never saw anything like the reaction Harry had. His shriek filled the tent. He held the doll high with a look of terror in his eyes and stalked off towards the producer’s tent. The producer stalked towards us within a few minutes, holding the doll. Like most veterans of many shows, we put on the poker faces we usually save for local police and fire department members when telling us to move stuff because it violates some local ordinance.
The producer held out the doll and asked, “who did this?” Betty admitted that she had made the doll. I then glibly suggested that we were test marketing it as a new item for sale. We had completed it in the evening after dinner, and we badly wanted Harry’s opinion of it. But he had already left for the night. “We left it in his booth so he could comment on it but never suspected that he’d react that way.”
OK, I am really good at sincere bullshit when I put my heart into it. Joyce, the producer, gazed at me momentarily and then broke out in laughter. Then, looking at Betty, she asked, “can you make one up that looks like my father-in-law?”
Joyce gathered a crew to move Harry’s pots to a new location.
In subsequent shows, we had neighbors who very carefully observed the space constraints of the booths and acted very much like we were ticking time bombs. Of course, the voodoo dolls were a hit that season. But there were many imitations on the market by the next.
Harry made hand signs to ward off the Evil Eye anytime he saw us, but we just smiled, waved, and wished him luck.
As Sun Tzu said,” The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”