LA GRANGE – From 2003 to 2008, Ruth Kopala was a regular at the La Grange Craft Show.
She sold her handmade, stained-glass pieces every year at the summer event, which is one of her favorites. Then, the economy tanked.
“I wasn’t making any money,” said Kopala, a La Grange resident who has worked with stain glass for more than 15 years. “I’m hoping this will be the year.”
Kopala will join about 175 vendors at the 39th annual La Grange Craft Show, which will be Saturday and Sunday along Harris Avenue. About half of the vendors this year are new – part of organizer Karen Yackley’s plan to feature handcrafted items. Yackley, a former craft vendor who has promoted craft shows since the late 1980s, took over the La Grange show after last year.
Yackley’s insistence on artisan vendors is expected to give the show a boost. Based on the six shows she has organized this spring, Yackley has bad news for vendors.
“This year is probably still the worst year I have seen for exhibitors,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s bad for me, because you have so many people out of work, and they’re coming into the crafting business. That is good for me personally. But the crafters themselves don’t make nearly the money they used to.”
Yackley said the craft show economy has declined steadily for about 15 years, from her observations.
“People don’t have the extra income,” she said. “They’re spending it on necessities, not on anything that they don’t need.”
Vendors pay $200 for a booth for the weekend, Kopala said. At some past shows, she didn’t make enough to cover the cost.
The good news, potentially, is that La Grange’s show tends to signal a turning point for craft vendors, who do better in the fall than in the spring, Yackley said.
“Craft shows always pick up, and I’ve had crafters tell me that this is the show where their sales pick up,” she said.
Dorn Cheske has found a way to survive the recession. Cheske is a silversmith from La Grange Park who teams with Nick Koclanes to sell jewelry. She has had a booth at the La Grange show for most of the past 10 years. Her trick: constantly featuring new work.
“You have to reinvent yourself all the time,” she said. “We have different stuff at every show.”
Kopala said she focuses on her tabletop meditative fountains, which she sells at shows and through her website, www.derglaswerks.com. Although plenty of people were interested in pursuing mediation, she said, many couldn’t afford to spend the $70 to $75 for one of her handmade fountains.
“When the economy crunched, there was a lack of funds to indulge that interest,” she said. “Hopefully, things will pick up this year and get better.”