ORONO, Maine — There was no shortage of people in front of Sandra Hare’s booth Saturday morning at the University of Maine’s Alumni Association Homecoming Craft Fair and Maine Marketplace.
It was a good early sign, but Hare, who owns the skin care products company Naturally Bee-Ewe-tiful knows the state of the economy could affect her Houlton-based business.
“People are being practical this year, I find,” she said. “That’s out there this year. And I know myself, I’m not spending. I just don’t know what’s going to happen with fuel, heating costs. … I just did [a craft fair in] Caribou, and money’s tight in The County. People are really worried.”
Thousands of shoppers got an early start on their holiday shopping at the fair, which was held Saturday and Sunday at UMaine’s Field House. There were 190 vendors, all of whom are based in Maine.
Some of the shoppers were likely already in town for other Homecoming events, such as the Maine-Northeastern homecoming football game in Alfond Stadium.
Others, like Ann Hayward of Machias, made a special trip.
The prospect of buying locally made items from Maine crafters — along with falling gas prices — and the trip from Washington County seem worthwhile.
“There are unique gifts and reasonable prices,” said Hayward, who purchased some holiday gifts for family members. “I really like homemade things. There are things here you wouldn’t find at a store.”
That sentiment is something the crafters said they’re banking on as the holiday season approaches.
“I do a lot of craft show shopping to support the local crafters, and I really like the quality in the craftsmanship,” Hare said.
“I think shoppers as a whole like to support the local people, so I think that is a plus [for crafters],” said Christine Corro, the Alumni Association’s events director.
Hare hasn’t had to lower prices to bring in business.
“I keep my prices reasonable because I want people hooked on my things,” she said.
Several vendors echoed Hare’s observation that shoppers are leaning toward more practical gifts and items that serve more than one purpose.
Laurie Pizzo of Abbot said she’s hoping her new company, Towels to Aprons, will be such a product. Her product is a piece of fabric that comes in a variety of patterns that can be used as a towel or apron, depending on how the customer clips the lanyard that comes with the fabric. The product also can be used as a bib for a child or a coverlet for a nursing mother.
“I think the trend is going toward more handmade items and items that can be used and that are not just ornamental,” Pizzo said.
But customers will always want more-traditional ornamental items, particularly around the holidays, one vendor said.
“People are cutting back dollarwise, but things like [balsam fir wreaths and centerpieces], where it’s a family gift, they’re still getting,” said Mary Marshall, who runs the Franklin business Winter Wreaths.