HELENA — As we barrel toward the holiday season, gift-giving and holiday shopping are on the mind of many. While there are plenty of great gifts that come from big box stores, sometimes, something local fits the bill a bit better.
On Friday and Saturday, vendors from all over Montana and the surrounding region will be putting their wares up for sale at the Helena Holiday MADE Fair. Whether it be handmade puppets, chocolate, or portraits depicting Montana's vast landscapes, there's plenty to find for everyone, and events like this one prove to be important for small businesses all across Montana.
"It's a great opportunity for artists to connect with customers direct, tell their story, sell quality made products," said Carol Lynn Lapotka, owner of REcreate Designs and co-organizer of the MADE Fair.
"I have four kids and I homeschool, and so I don't have a brick-and-mortar. So this is all I do is this type of pop-up events," said Keri Thorkildsen, owner of The Front Porch.
Lapotka noted handMADE Montana has been organizing fairs like this for 15 years, and while some vendors have been around for years, some are just getting their start. Bailey Zook, owner of B. Zook Ceramics said the Helena Holiday MADE Fair is her first large-scale event, and not only is she excited to get more eyes on her products but to also be inspired by other artists at the fair.
"It's really important because you get a lot of feet in the door and people seeing your stuff. It's great to be able to shop all in one place for gifts, and it's really cool as a maker to get to see all the things other people are making and be inspired by their creativity, too," said Zook.
In most cases, vendors at fairs like the MADE Fair don't work for their business full-time, but it's one of the more important pieces of their lives as they pour time and energy into their crafts.
"My background is in chemistry. I was just, like a lot of people I love chocolate, and the more I researched chocolate, the more interested I became because it's a really complicated process. And so with that complication, came intrigue and so then that led to me purchasing a bunch of industrial equipment in my kitchen and turning it over into a chocolate-making space," said Dan Norris, owner of Grizzly Chocolate. "I definitely enjoy making chocolate. You know, it's satisfying seeing a batch of chocolate, go all the way from actual cacao bean, all the way to a chocolate bar and you have full control over the ingredients that go into it."
And for some, it's not just the hard work and being able to showcase their products, but doing it with their families as well.
"For me, this has turned into a win-win, because I got my two grandsons involved. They do a lot of sanding, they do a lot of cutting, they do a lot of the sales of it. They've gotten quite good at it. And so I'm teaching them something, they still got their fingers. So I think I'm doing something right," said Bob Schoenfelder, owner of 406 Woodcrafters, with a chuckle.
While events like the Helena Holiday MADE Fair are important for vendors, small businesses, and artists from Montana, handMADE Montana has also made a point of helping out the individual communities that host the events.
On Friday, people interested in getting into the event early at 6 p.m. had the opportunity to buy VIP passes for $10. On Saturday, people can get in an hour earlier than the general public with an early bird ticket for $5. Proceeds from those ticket sales are being donated to Florence Crittenton.
Though, if people aren't worried about getting in early, but still want to check out what local businesses and artists from Montana have to offer, handMADE Montana is asking the public to donate non-perishable food items that will be donated to Helena Food Share.