Batavia area shoppers got a head start on holiday gift buying over the weekend as Batavia MainStreet offered its three-day Winterfest Art Market.
The event at 160 First St. went through Sunday and included 60 artisan vendors.
“We’ve been collaborating with Water Street Studios for about five years now,” said Beth Walker, executive director of Batavia MainStreet, about the event. “This starts the winter shopping experience and we try to promote local artists as well as local merchants. It’s a way to support and help grow local entrepreneurs.”
Walker said the event “used to be just a pop-up event” but over time morphed into a three-day experience.
“We see this as a kickoff to the holiday season,” she said.
According to Walker, the event was expanded this year with more vendors than ever.
“Last year, we had about 40 vendors total whereas this year we have over 60,” she said during the event. “This is the biggest one we’ve ever had. A year ago, we had roughly 2,000 visitors come through. We just moved this up as it used to be held in December, but since we found so many people shopping earlier and earlier, we thought we’d move it up to coincide with the holiday shopping season.”
Shoppers visiting the market Saturday morning spoke about the benefits of starting their Christmas shopping early as well as the unique products they were finding and the desire to support small businesses.
Molly Blomquist of Oswego said she came to follow an artist she likes and that when shopping for Christmas gifts, “I usually look for things based on the person I’m buying for.”
“In this case, I’m buying for my daughters because they love the work of this one merchant who is here,” Blomquist said as she visited a craft table for Hemp Club Jewelry. “I like that shopping is happening earlier and I’m normally done by now and working on my own things that I like to make. Having the shopping season start earlier means you’re less rushed.”
Kelsey Rankin of St. Charles, who operates both Boho Earth Headbands and Hemp Club Jewelry, was the merchant Blomquist had her eyes set on.
Rankin said she has worked with the Batavia MainStreet group for a number of years and looks forward to coming to Batavia.
“I have been doing this for about 10 years and started this business in honor of my friend Julie who passed away. This is dedicated to her memory and her honor,” Rankin said. “Julie taught me to macrame hemp and twine bracelets and necklaces in high school and after her passing I really wanted to do something to carry on her spirit and her memory and this is dedicated to something she taught me to do. I also branched out to other types of work as well.”
Batavia, Rankin said, “was the first market I ever did” adding that “I’ve been doing this artisan collective since it’s been going on.”
“I know this is a one weekend thing, but I do different shows throughout the area all season and I like that this is just a weekend event,” she said. “That way, I only have to set up once and I like staying close to home.”
Jeanne Johnson of Geneva was shopping at the event over the weekend and said she was “looking for gifts for my children or friends.”
“I like the homemade, artistic finds and these small markets are kind of fun,” Johnson said. “You see a lot of different things and kinds of stores all in one place. You see things you don’t see in local stores and it’s good to support these people who can’t invest in a big business.”
Rhonda Hibbeler of Batavia was also doing some early Christmas shopping and said when she visits markets, “I’m drawn to jewelry.”
“I like that it’s all handmade stuff and I like the craftsmanship of all the different items that you see,” she said.
Hibbeler’s friend Allison Rider of Aurora said she likes to “just look and see what creative things” merchants do.
“This was like – oh my goodness – I’ve never seen anything like this,” Rider said as she handled a wooden gun that shoots rubber bands. “I even tried the rubber band challenge and failed it miserably. I only hit one target. This probably isn’t going home with me because I’d need to buy two or else I’d have an unfair advantage.”
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.