Econ 919 — Kenai's cyber craft fair

Dec 11, 2020

Some of the Kenai Peninsula’s best holiday shopping begins as soon as Thanksgiving ends.

That’s when artists and art lovers from as far away as Fairbanks flock to the Kenai Arts and Crafts Fair, a holiday market the Peninsula Art Guild has put on for over four decades.

It usually fills the halls of Kenai Central High School the last weekend of November, said board president Marion Nelson.

“You come in from either entrance," she said. "It’s in the gym, it’s in the entry commons area by the auditorium, it’s in the hallways, down into the cafeteria, most of the time. And has approximately about 150 booths.”

With the high school closed to public events and COVID-19 cases surging, the guild chose to host this year’s fair online. Unencumbered by the limits of time and space, vendors can virtually link up with buyers any day until the end of December.

New board member Alex Rydlinski set up two different forums for the fair. One is a Facebook group, “Kenai Virtual Arts & Crafts Fair,” which has 225 members and counting. Vendors post their work and customers message them directly to work out sales, much like the perennial buy/sell groups that are popular on the peninsula.

There’s also the center’s website, which lists vendors by artistic medium and includes photos and links to their work.

Rydlinski said they’re not tracking sales and purchases, but that after the fair they’ll look for feedback from artists.

“We’re testing this out," he said. "It’s not the highest-tech craft fair in the world. But one thing I really wanted to do is gauge interest. And people seem to be interested.”

Holidays are usually a busy time for artists. Amy Rogde makes fur hats, mittens and slippers for her Soldotna-based business, Dena’ina Designs by Amy. She made a website about two weeks ago.

“I’ve never needed one before," she said.

She says she was making few sales in 2020 before she started the website. Usually, she posts up at the Kenai fair, state fair and Alaska Native craft fairs in Anchorage. It’s a chance for her to get her business cards out there.

“My stuff is a little bit on the higher-priced side, so people need to go home and think about it a little bit and then they give me a call," she said.

Rogde joined the Kenai Arts & Crafts Fair about two weeks ago, and her new website is included in the artist directory. She hasn’t posted in the Facebook group yet.

A booth charge for vendors makes the fair a fundraiser for the guild most years. There’s no charge this year.

Nelson said it’s also a good chance for artists who are new to the fair format to test the waters since they don’t have to fill up a space.

“Another aspect of this, it allows people with a relatively small inventory to participate without having to have a whole booth, or half a booth," she said.

Rydlinski is helping vendors get set up. He’s been the de-facto tech support.

“It was easier than I thought," he said. "People are figuring it out, people are getting signed up. And it’s been pretty low maintenance. I’ve been pretty happy about it.”

Some local markets, like the Merry Little Christmas Market in Soldotna in early November, continued to operate in person with precautions this year. Others, like the Alaska Crafters Market, have also pivoted to an online format.

A challenge for the board is maintaining the sense of community that makes the Kenai fair feel like a local event.

“The question is, how can we use these same tools that everyone’s using and try to make it the Kenai Craft Fair? And so that’s something I hope we’re doing," Rydlinski said. "I hope it feels something like it feels every year at the high school.”

Both Nelson and Rydlinski are artists, themselves. Nelson works with hot and cold wax. Rydlinski is an oil painter.

“I have a few prints for sale but, I admit, I haven’t posted my own work in the Facebook," Rydlinski said. "I’ve mostly been concerned about getting the group up. But yeah, I’ll have a few things in there. Why not?”

To shop or sign up as a vendor, visit the Kenai Fine Art website and click on the craft fair tab.