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Arts and crafts fair brings big stage to small town

Staff writer

Every year on the third Saturday in September, the city of Hillsboro turns into a zoo of activity as tens of thousands of people flock from near and far to partake in the renowned Arts and Crafts fair.

“There are some organizations and towns that don’t know how to do a craft show,” vendor Brenda Walls said. “Hillsboro knows how.”

Penni Schroeder, president of Hillsboro Arts and Crafts Association, is the driving force behind the event, which brings in just under 300 vendors including, this year, 90 new ones.

“We’re full,” she said.

Schroeder has a balanced offering of local vendors and faraway traders. While many are from the county, there are booths that will bring merchandise from 14 different states, including from as far away as Arizona.

Many of the traveling vendors are experienced professionals who have been in business for years. Some of the local ones are, too, thanks to the start they got from Hillsboro.

“To have the support and begin this in my hometown was kind of exciting,” said Brenda Jordan, whose first fair was Hillsboro’s 2003 event. “It had such a good reputation of being a top-rated show, and it was just nine miles from where I live. It was a no-brainer.”

Jordan sews baby clothes and nursery items. She had sewn all her life, and wanted something to keep her occupied as a stay-at-home mom. Now, she says, she does 12 to 14 shows a year.

“It’s not considered full-time, but in the fall, it definitely becomes full-time,” she said.

Fall is a peak season of sorts for arts and crafts shows. Arlene Schale of Hillsboro has been peddling her blankets and handcrafted ornaments in Hillsboro since 1994 in the months of July through December.

She travels around often, including to the state fair in Hutchinson, and being from Hillsboro lends her a certain amount of credibility.

“Wherever I go, if I mention I’m from Hillsboro, they know what’s going on there,” she said. “It’s good for Hillsboro, and that day is good for the county.”

For Walls, it’s an honor to be among the artisans selected to exhibit at the Hillsboro fair.

“They pick very good artists; that’s what makes the crowd want to come back,” she said. “People plan on it. It’s a family event for a lot of people.”

She said the Hillsboro event is the most fun of any event she does because it’s local, it’s reputable, and it’s delicious.

“The German food, the traditional Mennonite cooking, all that stuff, that’s a big draw,” Walls said. “That’s part of the fun.”

Schroeder said that while she works hard to keep the festival going, she couldn’t do it without the help she receives from the Arts and Crafts Committee and the 50-plus volunteers that mark the streets and run the festival on the big day.

Jordan is excited to be back this year, and knows it will be around for years to come.

“When you put that many years behind your show, you know there’s a quality there that makes it endure,” she said.

Last modified Sept. 17, 2015

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