Sunday, September 20, 2020

Person of the Week

For Crafters and Community: Mucha Helps Organize Branford Hill Craft Fair Sept. 27

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Four years ago, Northford resident Kim Mucha began meeting friends in the crafting community at fairs and other events, where she set up to sell items from her company, Second Time Around. Now, she’s organizing a craft show to help many of them connect with customers after months off the circuit due to COVID-19 cancellations.

Photo courtesy of Kim Mucha

Four years ago, Northford resident Kim Mucha began meeting friends in the crafting community at fairs and other events, where she set up to sell items from her company, Second Time Around. Now, she’s organizing a craft show to help many of them connect with customers after months off the circuit due to COVID-19 cancellations. (Photo courtesy of Kim Mucha )

Think about it: When was the last time you browsed a booth at a local artisan craft fair? One of the ripple effects of the pandemic shutdown (and ensuing slow-to-no reopening of large events) has been to knock traditional fairs off their foundations. That’s making life very difficult for makers who rely on showing their unique wares to make sales.

“So many crafters and artisans are struggling to stay afloat with large fairs and events being canceled due to COVID,” says Kim Mucha, a Northford resident and local crafter. “The [canceled] Big E and the Durham Fair are the two largest for a lot of crafters in this area. And then October, November and up to early December is usually our busiest time of year for events—we build or make from January up to September for our busy holiday season.”

After two of the largest shows on which Kim and many other local crafters were relying were canceled, “I decided to become an organizer, which is something I know nothing about,” she says. “But I reached out to my community of crafters in the Northford, North Branford, and Branford area and asked if anybody had private property where they were willing to let me put on very small COVID guideline-followed event.”

The result is coming Sunday, Sept. 27, when Kim and 14 other local artisans will host the Branford Hill Craft Fair from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 906 West Main Street in a large, private parking lot outdoors. Each artist will set up beneath individual tents to show their high-end, one-of-a-kind crafts. All artists and shoppers will need to wear proper face coverings and employ social distancing, hand cleansing and other pandemic protocols to stay safe.

“There are going to be 15 vendors who are all one-of-a-kind, and I’m very excited for it,” says Kim. “All the vendors that are involved, they all know that it’s our event. It’s not me doing it—there’s 15 of us hosting this event. We’re all sharing it, posting it on our sites and doing what we can to help promote it.”

Followers can find out more about the fair by checking in at the Branford Hill Craft Fair event page on Facebook. The vendors are also members of the Connecticut Craft Community, which has about 1,500 members, including organizers, artists, and craftspeople who stay in touch on a private Facebook page of the same name.

Lending a Helping Hand

It may her first time organizing a physical event, but it’s not the first time Kim has reached out a helping hand to her friends in the crafting community during the pandemic.

Kim founded her home-based craft business four years ago. It’s named Second Time Around and its craft is to recycle wood pallets into home accents, functional pieces, and personalized gifts. Like many artisans, Kim built up a following by showing her work as a vendor at events, but she also built a growing online following through her business Facebook page.

“It’s actually grown larger than I thought it was going to be,” says Kim, who is also an accountant. “I’m lucky enough that is a side business for me. I already work 40 hours a week, so I have a steady paycheck. But there are a lot of my friends that do this as their full time work.”

She said it wasn’t long before some of her friends’ craft businesses began to be severely affected by the pandemic.

“I started thinking of ideas when COVID hit and I was seeing how much some of my friends were really struggling. They were trying to find outlets where they could sell without being at an actual fair or craft event or artisan show.”

In the spring, she whipped up a virtual craft fair to help many of them sell gifts for Mother’s Day. To give the artisans a springboard, she hosted the event off her craft business’s Facebook page (Facebook.com/second.time.around1218).

“I did an open call for vendors in the crafts community for a virtual fair where vendors got a 15-minute slot. They recorded it and showed their products, and people got to tune in,” says Kim. “I did a morning event—Coffee with Crafters—and then I did Cabernet with Crafters in the afternoon. And they got really good feedback! Even if somebody didn’t buy, they became aware of who they were.”

Kim says that’s a huge boost for crafters who are struggling to get noticed in this pandemic wave of online shopping and shipping.

“Support local, shop small businesses is so important, now more than ever!” says Kim. “So many people are buying items via Amazon or other online merchants because they don’t know about these crafters right in their own back yards!”

She’s also helping out some of her crafting community friends by sharing what works for her, such as Facebook live events she sets up along the lines of a holding an auction.

“I’m going to try to help some other vendors to get to the point where they can do the same thing,” says Kim, who already has three vendors in line to take her up on the offer of free tutorial. “What works for me may not work for them, but it’s just thinking outside the box and sharing information of what I think works for my business that they can try, too.”

Kim says if she can do it, anyone can. She taught herself how to build up her online following and keep her customers coming back and telling others.

“I’m an accountant, so the business side of it came easy to me, but the marketing, the sales, the customer service side of it, that’s all self-taught,” she says. “It’s just constantly thinking of different ways to get my company’s name out there. Now I’m just sharing it with other people, so they can realize you don’t have to sit for eight hours at a table at a craft fair. You have a different platform; you have social media. Start getting followers; get your name out there; start posting items. Even if you don’t have a website, you can have a page on Facebook. I don’t have a website—I can’t keep up with the business I have on Facebook alone. We just have such a good following.”

While a lot of crafters do use online marketplace sites and shops to reach customers, “unfortunately, the costs are going up, the fees are going up, and the shipping is going up and they can’t afford to stay on these sites, because even though they’re selling, they’re not making any money,” says Kim.

She says another drawback to selling items online is “people want to touch, see, and feel things. They’re asking, ‘Where can I go to buy it?’ So that’s how I started getting into thinking outside the box again: What could I do to help everybody out and also to bring the crafts to the community?”

With the Branford Hill Craft Fair on Sept. 27, she’s happy to help host an in-person experience that’s been sorely missed by both crafters and customers.

“Last season, the fairs were mobbed. Even small fairs were getting tons of traffic, because I do think people do believe in shopping small businesses and supporting them,” says Kim. “That’s exactly what we want to do. Come to our fair, spend $5 more [than an item found at a department store] and you’re getting a handmade piece no one else has.”

And, if you’re lucky, you may also see a bit of the crafting community spirit that has made so many of these artisans friends.

“It really is a sense of family,” says Kim. “The public usually doesn’t see it, because you come in when the doors open. But if you’re lucky enough to see behind the scenes, you’ll see the vendor next to someone stop and go help them set up their tent, or you’ll see someone drop something while they’re trying to drag stuff in from the parking lot, and someone else run to go pick it up. That’s our community—those are people that I’m trying to help.”

Due to the nature of the items on display, this event cannot be held in the rain; check the Branford Hill Craft Fair Facebook event page on Sept. 27 for any notice of event changes due to inclement weather.


Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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