Handmade Heroes

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Chris Salley Davis (left) and Grace Dobush prepare for the 13th Crafty Supermarket event. – Photo: Jesse Fox

In the darker pre-Etsy days in the early 2000s, Grace Dobush had a website that served as her handmade shop for paper goods. It included a little note for people to mail her checks or money orders. This seemingly shady operation happened in a time when DIY crafting was a lesser-known art.

But Dobush, then attending Kent State for journalism, took printmaking and bookbinding classes and got hooked on the crafty community there. She went to the Cleveland Bizarre Bazaar craft show and Handmade Arcade in Pittsburgh, where she later lived, and wanted to solidify a similar community when she moved to Cincinnati in 2007.

She did that just two years later with the conception of Crafty Supermarket, the area’s premier and now overwhelmingly popular “indie craft fair.” This year’s Holiday Show — the 13th event since 2009 — takes place on Saturday in the Music Hall Ballroom.

Dobush, also a journalist and author, just returned from a three-month trip to Germany where she combined travel with work — she spent three days in Munich for a travel story for Cincinnati Magazine. And while her journalism career is really taking off — she’s also been published by the Washington Post, Economist and other well-known media outlets — Crafty Supermarket will always be her “baby,” albeit a six-year-old baby that’s now “learning arithmetic,” Dobush jokes.

She says a big reason why she has such a strong emotional connection to Crafty Supermarket despite having so much going on is her partnership with co-organizer Chris Salley Davis, program director for Girl Scouts of Western Ohio. “I can’t imagine doing this with anybody else but her because we work so well together,” Dobush says.

Dobush describes Crafty Supermarket as a twice-a-year handmade shopping extravaganza — growing handmade shopping extravaganza, Salley Davis adds. And she’s right. Though the event wasn’t by any means small in its inaugural year, when it crammed 1,000 shoppers in the small backroom of Northside Tavern, it’s grown remarkably since then.

Dobush had just published a book, The Crafty Superstar, at the time.

She was thrilled when the first show garnered much more attention than she had expected. Crafty Supermarket now brings in up to 5,000 shoppers of all ages, young city-dwellers and grandmas alike.

What separates Crafty Supermarket from The City Flea and other local craft shows, Dobush says, is that they’re really focused on handmade art, craft and design objects. They don’t have much vintage or artisan-made food for purchase, except ready-to-eat food from local food trucks and the like.

The show is also juried, which means that only about 25-50 percent of the vendors who applied are selected to participate. Crafty Supermarket has developed a reputation as one of the biggest Midwest indie craft shows and draws talent from beyond the Tristate.

Salley Davis was surprised at first to see the event expand so successfully outside of her and Dobush’s networks in Northside and Over-the-Rhine. But she realizes people in our culture are always looking for something unique and different.

“A lot of the big-box stores are selling this handmade aesthetic now,” Salley Davis says. “(Crafty Supermarket is) not just about the aesthetic; it’s the experience and the human side of items we use all the time.”

Dobush says you can’t compare the experience you get at Crafty Supermarket with purchasing any kind of mass-produced item. You’re buying directly from the artist or creator, and the products are often one-of-a-kind or speak to the buyer in a certain way.

“The difference is that you’re actually meeting the maker of the things that you’re buying, which is what makes shopping at a show like ours so special,” she says. “(It’s) getting to ask questions and understand their inspiration for whatever they’re making, getting to see the different varieties of things they’re making or learning about their technique.”

And in the crafting scene, artists are constantly learning from one another. When a community first formed around Crafty Supermarket, no one really knew one another. But as Dobush and Salley Davis started seeing the same people at shows, they formed strong, organic friendships.

“What’s also cool is seeing some of these people grow,” Salley Davis says. “I remember the first time I met (Amanda and Jessi Poston of) Orange Fuzz. They had all of their handmade things in giant garbage bags. Now they are doing crazy candle wholesale all out of their house in Northside. It’s a booming business.”

With Orange Fuzz participating in the upcoming Holiday show, the Postons say they are grateful for the event because of the ability to come face-to-face with buyers — something they can’t do with wholesale.

“(Grace) and Chris work so hard to plan, promote and create a great show every time,” Amanda says. “They make sure our needs are met and keep up with all the feedback. Grace has always put so much work and research into her shows, and the results speak volumes.”

When this week’s show opens Saturday morning, Salley Davis says they will continue their tradition of handing out “swag bags” full of vendor items to the first 100 shoppers.

“It’s a crafty family reunion,” Dobush says. “A lot of these folks who are coming from out of town, I only see them once or twice a year. There are lots of good vibes coming from the vendors and shoppers, and that just turns into a big lovefest.”

There will be awards from Tamia Stinson, Cincinnati Magazine’s style editor, for Best Product, Best Display and Best Newbie among the selected vendors. There’s also a People’s Choice Award voted on by shoppers.

In addition to Crafty Supermarket, Dobush is planning the first Midwest Craft Con with organizers from Columbus and Akron craft shows. She expects between 150 and 300 attendees at the three-day retreat, which will take place in Columbus in February.

Originally written for Cincinnati CityBeat: CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY.

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