I love outdoor festivals! It takes a lot of time and energy, but there’s just nothing like interacting with visitors to my booth, learning about them and answering their questions. For years, I only did very small local markets, being unwilling – and often unable – to gain access to the larger annual events. Travel costs, high booth fees, and low inventory made success unlikely at such events, so I just did what was comfortable for my circumstances.
Back in 2020, I finally got the courage to apply for some of the more popular shows, and I was overjoyed to be accepted! I was preparing for a wonderful new season when COVID-19 changed the game. Y’all know the rest. When outdoor events resumed in the Spring of 2021, my dear friend Donna decided to work the shows with me, and we had a phenomenal year!
Having done so well last season, I was sooooo excited about my first time as a vendor in the Forsythia Festival in Forsyth, GA. It’s a two-day event, the biggest show I’ve ever done, and it gets excellent ratings year after year by both vendors and patrons. I was well prepared. I went all out on supplies so that I wouldn’t feel limited, and so that I could customize almost any design on the spot. I bought new floral arrangements (I didn’t even know that the Forsythia is a real flower, but I found some very realistic fakes!), new jewelry display busts, and new risers to create an engaging, multi-layered display. And I made jewelry. Did not take pictures, did not post to website, did not promote. I made jewelry and dreamed of making my 10x10 corner of the world wow everyone at the festival. And I was ready.
Now, early on when I first applied for the festival, I knew that it would be cold, but did not anticipate arctic conditions. As the date drew closer and the forecast grew colder, I simply told myself that it wouldn’t be as bad as predicted. Either way, we had to show up, not only because of my financial investment, but also because the festival rules state that vendors who don’t show up don’t get invited back. We were sure that with the tent walls and weights, cold and wind would mean nothing more than a little discomfort. Boy, were we wrong!
Outdoor vendors are used to facing the elements, but this was much more than we expected, and beyond anything I’ve ever had to deal with. Imagine. Pre-dawn at twenty-six degrees, with winds at eighteen miles per hour and gusts up to 40. We got the tent up and weighted and put up one wall just to block the worst of the wind, but it only got worse. Two more walls up, and the tent seemed determined to take flight. After one great gust, the tent dropped so hard that it broke the weights, so we decided to take it down altogether and just use tables for display. No deal. Even without table covers, even with everything lying flat on bare tables, jewelry was flying. After nearly three hours, at just about the time the show would have officially opened, the snow flurries started sticking to Donna’s jacket, so we gave up. Packed up the jewelry, laid all the equipment flat, weighed it down and left the festival. I was beyond despondent, with the threat of financial ruin looming over what now felt like an ill-fated weekend.
I had been so cocky about potential sales that I had booked a room for the weekend, just as a convenience. I hate pre-dawn driving, especially in the cold, and figured it would just be easier if we didn’t have to travel back and forth overnight. We would be well-rested both days and have more time to make any adjustments for the second day of the event. Arriving on Friday evening, I mistook the strong smell of bleach at check-in as an indication of cleanliness. In fact, it was just the opposite. This wasn’t just poor housekeeping; it was long-term negligence and a near-total lack of maintenance. Hard to tell whether renovation or razing would serve it best, but they’ll need a new staff to get anything done as the current one is worthless. In the end, I made the festival committee aware of our horrific experience, and I posted a very detailed review on Tripadvisor. That’ll show ‘em, right?
Here's where Donna gets real credit. After Saturday’s battle with the elements, she refused to let me go back to the motel to mope. She had the keys to my van, and being familiar with the area, took me on a tour of Forsyth. We ended up at a thrift store (because she knows I LOVE thrifting!), and although I tried not to look, there were several items that immediately caught my attention. A silverplated water pitcher with the most amazing patina, vintage. A three-piece water lily frog bowl, vintage. A Pierre Cardin pen and pencil set in the case, vintage. And a big jar of bubble solution for my bubblefish gun! None are of great value, but all brought me great joy. By the time we left, I was smiling and much more animated than the zombie I had been during the tour. I wanted nothing more than to hug my new prizes, but we needed food. Kudos to Georgia Bob’s for providing great barbecue, a friendly staff, and excellent fried okra. Now, back to the motel.
Now on to Sunday. Having had my retail therapy and medicinal margaritas, I was determined to get an early start and have a beautiful day. At 6:30 am, it was still dark and around twenty-six degrees, but not nearly as windy as the day before. Feeling hopeful, we got into the van and… nothing. Stunned, I realized that my battery was dead. As I sat cursing myself for not checking out the portable battery charger I keep in the broom closet, and for not signing up for AAA before leaving as I had intended, Donna called the front desk to see if anyone was available to give us a boost. There wasn’t. Not letting that deter her, she then stated that we would simply walk around to the dining area where she was sure that we would find someone who could help. She was right. As we entered, we spotted a couple finishing their breakfast. Donna introduced herself and asked if they had jumper cables. The gentleman replied that he had a jump box, then arranged to meet us at the van. Silent throughout the entire process, which only took a minute, I felt so grateful to have a friend who took charge when I had obviously shut down. She was rolling with the punches and keeping me moving forward. I don’t know what I would have done without her.
Once we got the van started, the rest of the day went well. The financial impact of losing an entire day’s sales was huge, but some earnings are surely better than none. The temperature didn’t rise above freezing until after 10am, but we were able to set up a gorgeous booth with no problems and lots of sunshine, and the people did come. The Forsythia Festival lived up to its every promise, and I look forward to returning next year.
Although we were literally blown off the street in Forsyth, we’re ready to do it again. Next Saturday and Sunday, March 26 & 27 at the Mulberry Street Arts and Crafts Festival in beautiful downtown Macon, GA! Hope to see y’all there!