South Bay retail’s surprising bright spot: a crafts fair?

Editor’s Note: This article was written for Mosaic Vision, an independent journalism training program for high school students who report and photograph stories under the guidance of professional journalists.

While some Bay Area retailers were wringing their hands over sluggish holiday sales, one group of sellers defied this trend. Their hot merchandise: handmade crafts.

A record number of shoppers flocked to the San Jose Made Holiday Craft Fair where over 400 craft makers showcased their wares. Vendors were caught by surprise by the large crowds who waited in line for the fair to open at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

Emily Tran, a Silver Creek High junior, was willing to pay more for handmade items. “[I] didn’t really watch my budget because I didn’t mind paying if it meant supporting these small businesses,” Tran said.

After shutting down in 2020 due to the pandemic, the craft fair roared back, experiencing the largest increase in attendance by both shoppers and vendors this year, according to organizers.

“I don’t know how the recession will impact the event in the long term. But it’s a free admission,” said Kevin Biggers, the chief strategist for San Jose Made, said at the fair. “I think it’s hard not to find something for everyone.”

Forms, the all women’s pottery organization, creates a ceramic bottle live at the Santa Clara Convention Center, while many come to observe the process at Nov. 26, 2022. (Photo by Jasmine Sessoms/Mosaic) 

Vendors’ lively booths at the Thanksgiving weekend fair displayed items ranging from crocheted plushies to ceramics to resin art.

At Paper Picture Mama, Theresa Chung showed off handmade paper cutout cards inspired by her children that offer people an alternative to texts and emails.

“A physical card with a handwritten note is something tangible, and forces us to stop and take a moment to genuinely connect with someone,” Chung said.” It also serves as a keepsake and reminder of a special person or moment in time.”

At Woofboard, shoppers found charcuterie boards for dogs. During the pandemic, Lynna Choi’s “barkuterie boards” took off online. Choi came up with the idea after seeing them on Instagram.

“I figured it was a great way to celebrate our pups and a fun way for pups to try a variety of different treats without committing to an entire bag of treats.” She supports other local small businesses by buying preservative-free treats for her barkuterie boards from them.

Candy Paint Cafe displays original merchandise inspired by sweets, snacks and animals in different forms of keepsakes at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Nov. 26, 2022. (Photo by Jasmine Sessoms/Mosaic)
Candy Paint Cafe displays original merchandise inspired by sweets, snacks and animals in different forms of keepsakes at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Nov. 26, 2022. (Photo by Jasmine Sessoms/Mosaic) 

Members of an all-women’s pottery collective, Forms, demonstrated the skills required to create their pieces, taking turns at a pottery wheel throughout the event.

“Most people who visit conventions such as the Holiday Craft Fair tend to misunderstand why artists price their work so high,” said Ashley Magana, spokesperson for Forms. “By bringing the wheel we are able to convey the intense amount of skill that goes into each piece, on top of branding, packaging, failed attempts, materials, resources, and most importantly labor.”

Lauren Linh Bui heard about the fair on Instagram. She went to window shop with her family, but after three hours of browsing, surprised herself by buying a couple of items

Shoppers and vendors both commented on the diversity and support offered by organizers to the fair’s creative community of entrepreneurs. Many of those who attended hope to be back again next year.

“[San Jose Made] did a great job in organizing and facilitating the event, and the community really came out for us!” said Choi.

Biggers compares the fair’s experience with shopping at a mall, “What’s cool is at our events 99% of the time the products are made by that person. So it makes it feel more special.”

Jasmine Sessoms is a sophomore at Silver Creek High School in San Jose.

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