Light showers were forecasted on August 16, the Sunday Artisan Market’s reopening day. No worry: the vendors continued unperturbed. This isn’t the first storm they’ve weathered, after all.
By noon the sun was out and over thirty booths were set up, which market manager Deb Dursi calls “a great turnout.” She credits the strong comeback to the support of enthusiastic vendors.
“We almost weren’t going to open,” says Daren Otis, who has been selling her handmade bags at the market for nearly thirty years and sits on the Board of Directors. She herself was hesitant, but believes that if the market had no presence this year “people were going to draw their own conclusions.”
The Artisan Market follows the Farmers Market’s safety measures: mandatory face masks, hand-washing stations, and single-lane traffic. Almost every vendor has a bottle of hand sanitizer at their booth. “I’m really pleased that it opened up, and it feels like a safe environment,” says Dora Berti, a crochet artist who makes pillows, rugs, and other home decor and accessories. Berti is a first-time vendor who moved to Ann Arbor in July and has been looking forward to showing at market. “It’s good for customers to have something exciting to do,” she adds.
Seasoned vendors note that customer habits are changing: “People are buying almost no bags. They’re buying masks,” says Otis, who has expanded her offerings to include cloth face masks. Candle maker Jeb Booge says that his online shop has been more active, and notes that he’s using some of the FDA training he received in his previous career in the cosmetics industry. “I’ve sanitized all my candles and secured them by wrapping them in shrink wrap,” he says. Booge has never rented a space for his business, and sells at market to avoid the burden of a lease. It’s a decision he’s especially grateful for now.
But market selling also comes with its challenges. For Stacey Murray, who makes sculpted metal jewelry, mask-wearing has made it harder to connect with customers. She wears an ornate metal piece from her brand, Hankrajewel, over her cloth mask, but says that nothing replaces a smile. “I view my smile as my best asset. It’s like your welcome mat, your open door.”
Murray acknowledges that she’s taking a risk by attending market, but believes that the bigger risk is not showing up for the customer base that she has worked so hard to build. “Our business model relies on those relationships.”
Others echo this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of their relationships both with customers and with each other. Diane Sheffrey, who creates fused glass pieces using a process she likens to “quilting with glass” doesn’t subsist on her art sales. Still, she’s been coming to market for ten years. “There’s just something I like about being out here. We become family,” she says.
Booge admires his fellow vendors, from whom he has learned a lot about art and creativity. “The market represents the heartbeat of Ann Arbor, which is artisan-based,” he says. “If you like creativity–and who doesn’t in a town like Ann Arbor–it’s a great place to browse and learn.”