John and I spent a few hours today on the other side of the sales table as shoppers at the 30th Annual Santa’s North Pole Village Craft Sale held in Ankeny. This is, according to the organizers, “one of the most popular craft shows in Iowa.” It is also Ankeny Art Center‘s biggest fundraiser, and they do their best to fill every booth with a seller to the tune of $135 for a standard 9-foot by 12-foot space, or $300 for a corner space. Two chairs are provided, and if you pay an extra $10, there are a limited number of spaces to be had with one electrical outlet each. You provide your own tables and/or display set-up. There are so many booths at this fair that the Ankeny Art Center commissioned an architect to map out 16 pages of drawings with over 800 spaces.

The craft fair features only handmade items and runs at three sites: the high school and two middle schools. There is a $5 per person admission fee, as well as a $1 shuttle that takes you from site to site if you want to avoid the hassle of finding a parking space. Parking is admittedly tight, even though there are a lot of spaces. If you spend the entire day at the fair (which is not unrealistic, given the number of booths there are to view), you’ll be glad that the school cafeteria at each site sells food and beverages. Each cafeteria also squeezes vendors into every inch of available space. Never say never, but one of the fears I would have as a seller is that I’d get tucked into one of these cafeteria spaces. My observation is that most of the cafeteria traffic related to food-and-drink sales, not handmade products. And after buyers fill their tummies, I imagine that more than one vendor worries about the condition of his or her wares when they are handled!

What I hear from the vendors is that if you have been selling at this show for a while, you have some choice in where you are placed. The Web site points out that if you want to have any say in where your booth will be located, you need to mail in your application as soon as possible. You can request that you be placed on a mailing list, which I would guess is key to applying for booth space in a timely fashion. Honestly, I haven’t decided whether this is a show where I wish to sell in the future. There are pros and cons, as you can probably guess from what I have described so far. From the buyer’s side, however, I can tell you that there is a wide range of products available, and it is definitely fun to shop. The only negative I can report as a shopper is that every year I sense some tension in the air from sellers, particularly those who are not seeing a lot of traffic. I suspect they are worried about recouping their booth fees, although that is likely true at every venue, no matter what your fees may be.

John and I did purchase some lovely items from Iowa artisans at the North Pole show, which I’ll share with you in the photos below. To the best of my knowledge, none of these folks sell online, so you’ll just have to come to Iowa to find their wares. And in one case, the sellers did not provide a business card, so I can only show you a photo. Bet these folks would have had one if they had known I was going to blog about them!

A Colfax couple known as Gary and Mary run a woodworking venture called “Gary & Mary’s Art & Woodcraft.” They craft wonderfully detailed home decor pieces that I have been collecting for a few years. You can reach them by phone at 515-674-4202 or e-mail them at This year John and I bought from Gary and Mary some lovely Thanksgiving table accents, as well as a napkin holder that we will use all year long.


Jeanne and Emily represent “Sisters in Sync,” a paper-crafting business that features delightful handmade cards and glass goblet lamps with decorated vellum shades.  I spotted the sweet lamp below, and had to have it! You drop in a tealight candle, and you’re good to go. To reach Jeanne, call 319-393-6453. To reach Emily, call 515-225-1077.

Casey Schaefers says she had been making jewelry for years and was encouraged to begin selling her pieces. “What shall I call my business?” she asked. “I looked in the mirror, and guess what I saw.” She calls her business “Fat Redhead Designs,” although I must say that only the red hair fits her business name. This vibrant designer who likes to poke fun at herself produces beautiful jewelry designs. I bought the pieces below from her, since I wear a lot of earth tones and these pieces fit the bill. You can reach Casey by phone at 515-971-7383 or by e-mail at

For the last four years, I have been collecting Amish baskets from Darla Best of Gingerich Amish Baskets. Darla knows each Amish family whose baskets she sells. The family members sign and date their sturdy, practical, and beautiful baskets on the bottom of each piece. This year I bought a desk organizer made by Eli and Verna Troyers of Lamoni, Iowa. Darla has a busy show schedule, so if you’d like to catch her at an upcoming show, call her at 515-232-4355 to find out where she will be.

The last photo I’d like to share with you shows two pairs of thick mittens, lined in polar fleece. I don’t know who made them, since no business card was available, but I can tell you that these mittens are not only beautiful, but they are warm! There were two different booths selling mittens of this variety at the North Pole show. They were selling well in both locations for $24 a pair in one booth, and $35 a pair in another booth.

Describe some of your own handmade craft buying experiences this fall.

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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9 thoughts on “The other side of the sales table”

  1. Splendid Little Stars

    just went to a craft show today that was juried. I thought it was great with a good mix of items of high quality–200 vendors. One one hand, the more competition there is at a show, the more vendors could be concerned about getting the buyers’ dollars. On the other hand, a good show attracts lots of buyers. The show I went to today charged $2 admission and had a line out the door to get in. I didn’t intend to buy anything. I went to check it out as a potential show for me and to visit a vendor friend. I ended up buying several wonderful items.
    By the way, several vendors were selling mittens made from recycled sweaters,

  2. Memories for Life Scrapbooks

    I’m definitely bookmarking this post! Ankeny is only a couple hours from me and Jesse has family there. The fee is a little more than what I normally pay, but if the traffic is there…I’d say it’s worth it! Thanks for the info and review.
    Love that goblet lamp! I have a few glasses that were “practice pieces” for my etching and now I have no idea what to do with them! This would be such a fun idea for Christmas gifts!

  3. I’ve experienced “seasoned” vendors getting the best spots too. Hate t o say it, but it’s the good ‘ol boy circuit. I quit going to our local craft show because people didn’t want to buy handmade quality items. I’ll have to go as a buyer this year – went two years ago and didn’t see anything I liked! Love your napkin holder! And the silver in your bracelet is so unusual! {:-D

  4. We have a couple of juried shows in town too but I don’t think the fees are that high especially with all that competition in one location! Wow! Those are great finds though. Those mittens look very warm!

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