Markets, Vendors, and Small Booth Tenders

The Utah County Fair can be described in a single word: miserable.

The whole event was 3 days. 3 days of hard work for little returns, as a combination of bad advertising, inept county officials, and bad weather combined to keep crowds away, and vendors unprofitable. Thursday was a sunny day, which would have been beautiful, if a sunny day in Utah in early August wasn’t 104 Fahrenheit (40 Celsius). Friday was cooler, but only because sun was being blocked by a thick blanket of smoke drifting over the mountains from the West Coast fires. Despite warnings from meteorologists and health care officials to stay indoors and limit time outside, we fair vendors had to spend the day breathing in the toxic air. By Saturday, another day under the smokey skies, most vendors had already given up. They took down their tents, packed their wares, and left.

Being a Small Business Owner is Hard.

Most of the vendors at the county fair were local, small business owners. Most of us do not have a store front and rely on the internet and farmer’s markets to keep our businesses afloat. Our profit margins are almost non-existent. We small business owners are often the executive team, production team, marketing team, and sales team rolled into one. We try to balance our business needs with day jobs, families, housework, friends, and our own sanity. So why do they work so hard? Why do pour every extra minute they have, and every extra dollar they make back into a business that can barely sustain itself? In short, because they are passionate about their art. There’s little reward for what they do, and even less money. For many small businesses, a single bad weekend is enough of a setback to miss rent, or the next weekend’s booth fee. The vendors at your local farmer’s market aren’t the CEOs rolling in cash; they are passionate artists trying to get by.

We are a Community

After two summers at the local farmers’ markets, my business partner and I have become part of the market community. Every week, we see each other and admire each other’s crafts. We share tips of the trade, and compare different markets, and build genuine relationships- as neighbors do. This community built by vendors is incredibly important, and the county fair really demonstrated why. We wouldn’t have made it a day without each other. We shared water with each other when the hot sun threatened to roast us alive. We shared tent weights and safety pins to keep each other’s canopies from blowing away when the smokey winds tried to blow us out. We shopped at each other’s booths, traded merchandise, and offered words of encouragement to each other when we all went hours upon hours without a sale. We laughed, gossiped, chatted, and cried together over a hard weekend- even though half of us had never met before. By the end of the weekend, several vendors had exchanged contact information and planned collaborations. Isn’t mutual support, cooperation, and empathy what community is all about?

So, maybe the weekend wasn’t a complete waste.

It’s true that the weather was atrocious, the sales slow, profits non-existent, (my business partner and I barely made back our booth fee), and the days long and tedious (though I did get a lot of reading done). I lost my weekend, sales I would have gotten at another market, and lost my voice to the smokey air. But, I did gain a few things. I gained 3 wooden puzzles to give my youngest nephews. I gained 2 beautiful bronze bookmarks/hair pins along with a new vendor friend. I gained a new fuzzy blanket, a witchy photoshoot, and a connection to a new market. I wouldn’t go through all that misery again, but I can say that if I had to, I couldn’t have chosen a better group of people to go through it with.

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