I must apologize for not getting out a Thursday/ Friday blog. Several events came together which set it behind a couple of days.
Our eldest son came home from his home far, far away to visit for Thanksgiving. It was a good time to do some things together, and since we know not when he will visit again, we needed to take advantage of this time together.
We used to play chess quite often, and I used to win all the time, allowing him an occasional win, just so he’d know beating me was possible. Now it’s not only possible, it’s likely. He’s studied the game and achieved a degree of proficiency far above mine. So I avoid playing chess with him as often as possible.
It reminded me of the times, years ago, when we played Atari. The game had not been out in the marketplace very long when we bought him one for Christmas. It didn’t take him long to master the games. I think he liked to play the games with me because I was so easy to beat. He mastered them so quickly. He would never admit it, but I’m pretty sure he was practicing when I was working. Anyway, it became obvious, in a very short period of time, that I was no match for young Fred. In fact, he won so readily and so often, that after a while it was no fun to play him anymore. Besides, I could always get revenge for my trouncings at the chess board. Not so anymore.
My next excuse for not getting this blog out on time is it’s the time of year to make Christmas presents for tykes, in my shop. Every year, with few exceptions, I’ve made wooden toys for the poor kids at Sister Susan’s Steuben Rural Ministries. She and her helpers put them in a Christmas stockings with a name tag attached and sends them off to families with kids, who may not get much otherwise. For a couple of years I made pull toys, then graduated to toy cars. This year the kids will get little animal puzzles. There will also be a few small-fry rocking horses.
I found I enjoy making small objects more than large ones. Back in the late 80s and into the mid-90s, I owned a custom furniture wood shop - Fantasy Furniture Workshop (“Let ME build the furniture of your dreams”). Some of the projects were so big and so complicated, I grew weary of working on them long before they were finished. Display cabinets, some entertainment centers, and hutches were of this ilk. Much more fun were trestle tables, bunk beds and gun cabinets. Perhaps next year I’ll start a bit earlier in the year and make some old-style wood toys.
Perhaps my biggest mistake was not sticking with Fantasy Furniture. It was a new shop, and one of the few places around of its kind. I should have expected there to be times when there was no work, maybe even more times than there were. So I started taking some of my scroll sawn items to craft shows. I had developed some skill with a scrollsaw and was one of the few scroll artists around. At first, sales went pretty well, then dropped off. So I added some turned bowls and vases to my stock. They did okay, but I never seemed to be able to get over the hump, i.e., go home with a profit in my pocket after every show. Even shows where I turned a profit, it wasn’t anything to brag about. Then the source of the problem showed itself. Another crafter walked over to my tent and bellyached about the number of trade show items on display at this particular show. Trade show items are those already made in a factory– mostly its stuff from China. The stuff sells so cheaply it can be marked up for a nice profit to the person displaying it at the craft show. This kind of thing became widespread at the same time craft show promoters were stating in LARGE CAPITAL LETTERS ON THEIR APPLICATIONS they would not allow any trade show items in their craft shows. They would make a big production of inspecting the work of each crafter before a show opened. Inevitably, trade show items were found, but the promoter would say they didn’t want any “holes” in the show (meaning no spaces between tents), so the offending crafter was allowed to stay this year but were blackballed from this point on.
You might think the issue was cut and dried. But as with most things of consequence there were complications. For instance, a female crafter friend of mine fashioned lamps from old chunks of wood – do some scraping, shaping and carving, varnish them up – beautiful things they were indeed. The problem arose when, to display a finished product, the necessity arose to provide the lamp with a lamp shade. She was not a seamstress, nor did she know of one who admitted to knowing the knack of manufacturing such things, so she had to buy them! Tsk, tsk, said the promoters at a show she and I attended in New Jersey. We cannot have pre-made products displayed in our show. It cheapens the work of everyone here! So my friend was told not to come back next year or ever again. Personally, I couldn’t see the harm in allowing her return every year. Her work was beautiful, her 200 square foot display eye-catching and glamorous. And Lucy was a real character; few people can entertain a browsing crowd the way Lucy could. Of course, the bottom line said that to remove the offenders of the no-trade-show items policy included returning the money. It would have been a considerable payout. Lucy herself paid $1,000 for her space alone. Nine or ten of those would make a big hole in the promoter’s pocketbook.
Income from these shows trended downward as more and more of this trade-show crap found its way into the craft shows. Those of us who actually made our crafts were taking it on the chin, and the cheaters where raking it in; and the customers weren’t even aware they were buying crap from China.
Then came the time when I didn’t have the money to pay our taxes. It was always my responsibility to pay the taxes, and I didn’t have the money. I had to ask my wife to help pay them. Well, that did it. The dream of a having a successful craft business blew up – I had to go back to work. I managed to attend a show every now and then – the ones that usually paid well, but the general scene didn’t change for the better. I noticed at the last show I went to – in New Paltz - the promoters had raised the parking fee to $8 per person – not per car, per person The “parking lot” was a morass of mud and it was raining like crazy. It occurred to several of us with tents near the entrance the customers (just a man and a woman, in most cases) were spending $16 before they even got past the gate into the place. Usually, the first stop they would make was the food court (the food was very good, I’ll give ‘em that, but expensive). The point I’m trying to make is that potential craft customers were out in the neighborhood of $40 to $50 before they even went shopping at the craft displays! No wonder sales of craft items was diminishing. People were spending a good amount of their budget for the day just to get in and have something to eat!
When I started actually losing money – spending more to attend the shows than I made at them, I quit altogether. By then, all the driving, loading and unloading, setting up and tearing down – going to a craft show by yourself is no picnic, you know - the back started to hurt a lot; so combine pain with losing money, it doesn’t take a really smart guy to know when it’s time to quit I quit. From what I’m hearing around the circuit, I chose right. But I should have kept going with the wood shop.
Dag nab it!
Copies of an entire bookful of this kind of prose are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites. (Just thought you might be wondering about that.)