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Fair is Big Business For NH Craftsmen

The annual League of New Hampshire Crafts Fair at Mt. Sunapee  is now in its 79th year.

The show opened this past Saturday, and is the oldest, longest-running crafts fair in the country.

About 200 exhibitors are showcasing their wares.  

And most of them spent close to a year leading up to what they call, not just a fair, but the Fair.

Artists are nailing down floors, draping curtains and hanging up lights to get their booths ready for the annual New Hampshire Crafts Fair.

"I’m anxious and excited, because I have some new colors, new glazes, new items."

That’s Lorraine Dilmore from Hampton Falls, New Hampshire.

She’s been selling stoneware at the Fair for 37 years.

Dilmore works out of a converted barn studio.

(whir of potter’s wheel)

Last month, her hands were deep in moist clay, making bowls and vases.

"By mid-June to end of July, I’m in here when I’m not sleeping - I’m in here making pots. I love it and I hate it at the same time. I must love it enough to keep doing it all these years."

-What do you have to make to break even?

"Usually the standard is about $10,000 for the nine-day show. You want to make about a thousand a day to feel it was worth your while."

Dilmore says she used to bring in a lot more money, but the market has changed.

"You are competing with overseas imports so you can’t really put a dollar figure on how you can add to the costs of your items to reflect the cost of your overhead. You really have to just not have the profits you had years ago."

Officials at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen say the Fair generates more than $2 million in sales.

And despite the recession, these revenues have been climbing over the last five years.

Of course, that’s not true for everyone:

"My name is Jordana Korsen. I’m a glassblower and I’m from Harrisville, New Hampshire, and I’m married to a maniac. And he’s helped me. I wouldn’t be able to set this up without him, but don’t tell him that."

(Husband in background: "Thank you very much."

Korsen says it’s always been worth coming here — except for 2011.

"I don’t mind telling you that it was the worst show I had in 15 years."

But Korsen attributes that loss to last year’s placement within the tent.

This year, she’s ready to make a comeback by building a knock-out display.

"We’ve got the screw guns, and the saw and the level and all that jazz to build our own space. The idea is the booth is secondary to the work, but it lends to showing it off well."

Once the walls and shelves are up, Korsen and others are all set for the steady traffic — that is, if they can also control Mother Nature or world events.

A spike in gas prices, floods or a heat wave, can pull the plug on a year’s worth of planning.

And that’s heartbreaking for the many who consider the Mt. Sunapee event their main source of income.

But all is not lost when the clientele go home.

The Fair lets the artists showcase their best work — and possibly generate future sales.   

Jenny Eddy of Saxtons River, Vermont, has a twenty-five hundred-dollar iron gate her husband built.

" It was actually made originally for somebody’s wine cellar in a very fancy, multi-million dollar house and he went bankrupt."

So after three years, the Eddys still own it. Maybe, just maybe, it will sell this week.

"We’re not worried about it. Or it will sponsor another order that might mean another size or a slightly different style or something."

The Eddys will have plenty of opportunity.

More than 30,000 visitors bring their wallets each year.

The surrounding businesses and residents cash in, too. Vacation rentals are fully booked and restaurants are jammed.

The League also pays out more than $40,000 in wages for temporary help.

And in the sultry days of summer, that’s a cool relief for the sluggish economy.