Northbrook: Highlights, Lowdowns and WTFs

It’s official, kids. I’m not leaving the city limits again. You can’t say I haven’t given the suburbs a shot. Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn, Shaumburg, and now Northbrook. It’s been a thorough investigation. And while I didn’t totally tank at most of these places, neither did I do well enough to return when the costs versus profits were tallied.

Northbrook was the first one I actually lost money at. Being both monied and close to the city, I thought some of the mojo would spill over, like it does with Evanston (which I haven’t given up on, actually, my last show there having gone quite a bit better than I’d expected given the size and newness of the event). I had been prepared to not do really well, but that I did this poorly did come as a surprise.

I know we got hammered by a major storm on Saturday, but till then we had a crowd, and Sunday we had a crowd. They just weren’t into it. Many vendors I talked to were unhappy, actually. I think the reason was the composition of the crowd. It was mostly retirees and families with young children. Which may be all of Northbrook, come to think of it. But I’ve noticed that an art buying crowd doesn’t have their kids with them and isn’t trying to move to an apartment after 40 years in a 3 bedroom. Also, I had lots of nice compliments, but didn’t have many business cards taken, which is indicative of the general reception my stuff is getting with that crowd. In Spring Green, I almost ran out of cards. If you took out the one big sale, I didn’t move much product there, but interest was really good, so I feel I can build an audience.

So highlights: EM Events is one of the promoters hereabouts, and the experience with them that I had was a good one. They’re organized and helpful, and I didn’t have any hassles. There were email updates all weekend long regarding weather, the condition of our tents post storm, prize winners, et cetera. So, SUPER communicative, which is awesome. The judges were pleasant, introduced themselves and had a brief chat. My kind of stuff doesn’t win prizes, so I’m not concerned about their presence or the impression I’m making on them, but I do find a rude or standoffish judge unnecessary (*cough* Shaumburg *coughcough*) and it tarnishes my overall experience of the show. Cuz who likes some judgy judge getting all pretentious in your face when you’re trying to be charming and have fun? Nobody, that’s who.

Load in, check in, load out and parking were all easy peazy. I couldn’t drive up to my spot, it being in a park, but the tents were all along a path for easy carting to and from, and there was plenty of blocked off parking on all sides for us to stage from, so we weren’t fighting with each other or residents for the spaces. The artist amenities were contained in a big, air conditioned space and they had very nice ladies staffing the noshies table, which had fresh fruit in addition to the usual sugary carb fest that is the free breakfast typically offered at these events.

The organizers did their job well. They brought the people. The people were simply not into my glittery shenanigans.

Lowdowns: Lost money, first off. That’s pretty low. My immediate neighbors were also not pleased with their day, so it wasn’t just me. Which, again, points to the composition of the crowd rather than a lack of bodies. If a crowd isn’t into glitter and skeletons, that’s one thing, but my neighbors and I couldn’t have been more different in flavor. The only similarities between us were that we were all pretty colorful. Maybe Northbrook likes more of a day spa color scheme? Beige, mas beige, super beige, super ultra beige….

Also, bring your own food. There is nothing worth eating in Northbrook and the event has exactly one food vendor and a DQ cart. All the restaurants easily accessed on foot are overpriced and underwhelming. Sushi? Only if you’ve never actually had Japanese food or have really low expectations. Italian? Sort of. The one ok-ish place was a burger joint whose typical burger joint fare was decent, but whose menu offered Greek-ish and Mexican-ish dishes that were not great. Good fries though. And 3 ice cream parlors on the same corner, so if that’s what you’re into you’re all set.

The crowd was not fun. By not fun I mean generally not playful or engaged. They mostly walked by without entering and didn’t seem to be interested in talking to you. They’d come in if invited, but my guess is because they didn’t want to seem rude. It was a polite crowd, but a seriously disinterested one from my perspective, which, after 22 years at ren faire I feel is pretty well trained in the crowd vibe sussing department.

WTFs: Higher than average number of handsy little kids. I get kids engage with the world by touching it, I do. But ya gotta reign that in if you’re taking them to an art show, particularly one within spitting distance of 3 ice cream parlors. I personally didn’t have it happen to me, but more than one vendor I chatted with complained loudly about ice cream covered fingers on their wares. One guy selling clothing of some kind was particularly cranky about that, for obvious reasons.

Lots of people getting in my way during pack down. Like, people wandering the show who apparently didn’t come early enough to look around during actual hours of operation, but instead waited till everyone was busy, hot, tired, in a hurry and desperate for a shower and a beer before deciding to plant their asses in front of the one thing they hadn’t packed yet and stare at it, chat about it with their companions, and generally make themselves a tripping hazard at a time when one was not feeling hospitable any longer. (And one guy who felt the need to stand there staring and commenting on how “strong” I looked. Wtf is that supposed to mean? Was he flirting?) We’d get that at ren faire all the time, too. You’re two seconds from dropping the tarps for the night after a 13 hour, 90 degree day in a corset, when someone decides they want to look around. Not shop, mind you. No. Paying me would go a long way towards securing my patience. But these people never seem to buy anything. They’re “just looking” while you’re just trying to go the hell home. There are always going to be one or two, but there seemed to be a boat load of this going on here for some reason.

I have no objection to someone coming in to ask for a card real quick, or if they had intended to come back for an item and didn’t realize the show was closing or what have you. I have no objection to someone standing outside and out of my immediate way to look at what is left on the walls and asking questions or talking to me while I work. But do not cross my threshold during pack down for ogling purposes! I will not love you for it.

So yeah, not going back to Northbrook. I don’t know who had a good day, because I didn’t wander far, but the only things I saw walking by in bags were prints and small yard art. So there you go.

Spring Green: Highlights, lowdowns and wtfs

So this show had me pretty tense. I don’t usually do shows with this big a nut because I’m working real close to the bone most of the time. I drove up only able to afford the cost of the hotel with the actual cash I had to my name. Everything else had to go on credit. With travel costs, lodging and food plus fees, this particular show exceeded my budget by a fair bit and I was nervous as hell. Not just because it was a show I’d never even laid eyes on, but because experience has taught me that the further I get from my funky home metropolis, the worse I do sales-wise. My best crowds are firmly within city limits.

And till about 1 o’clock on a beautiful, sunny, mild Saturday, I seriously thought I was going to have to sell a kidney to pay my Visa bill this month (Which was why, despite the fact that I ended up with bangin’ sales, I didn’t do any of the shopping I longed to do. See? I’m a grown up with a firm grasp of fiscal responsibility.). I’d had one or two sales of mid range items, and while there was definitely a huge crowd that was there to buy and lots of appreciative browsing, practically the only thing that had walked out my door in the four hours since we had opened were business cards.

And then there was Epic. And the biggest sale of my fledgling art career, my disco bison head La Mujer Blanca. If you’re not involved in the medical field, there’s no real reason you should have ever heard of Epic Software. I certainly hadn’t, and till someone educated me was severely distressed about having had to take a check (no cell signal equals no credit cards) for such a large sum. It’s a privately owned software company based out of Madison whose products are used by about half the hospitals in the US. Apparently, the company campus is also a huge art gallery that is open to the public. The owner of this company is a big time supporter of the arts, and every year she shows up at Spring Green, wanders around picking out what she wants, then her entourage of helper monkeys run around writing checks and collecting the new artwork to hang in said gallery.

I believe “HOLY SHIT!” is an adequate response. Like, that’s the kind of show everyone wants to have. Where somebody with a bank account you can’t even conceptualize walks in and buys your most expensive piece without batting an eye. Soooo, yeah. That happened.

Excepting that one, the rest of the sales were not numerous or large, but I did get a positive vibe from the crowd for the most part, which makes me think I just need to get them used to me. The new kid always takes a minute to make friends.

So highlights (besides the aforementioned billionaire art collector). Huge crowd. Even on the occasionally rainy second day that was threatening storms, rain patrons (those who will not be thwarted by weather and those who deliberately go to fairs when it’s crap out so they don’t have to deal with crowds and lines) were there in pretty solid numbers. And said crowd was there to shop. I saw hands holding packages, bags, and various and sundry purchases more often than not. Not a single vendor I talked to was cranky about sales, which is practically unheard of. The organizers were organized. Very. And pleasant to deal with in all ways in which I had to deal with them. The judges weren’t even judgy! They were chatting and being friendly while they made whatever notes judges at art fairs make about whatever it is they judge. Which is a lovely departure from the other art fair judges I’ve encountered, who are always very obviously judging me (Who doesn’t like disco skulls? Haters, that’s who.). Also, Friday setup, indie bookstore with coffee, beer and delicious food, AND parking so close to my spot I didn’t have to clutter up the street with my vehicle because I could load in and out from the parking lot. Love it.

Lowdowns. No freakin’ cell signal. Unless you have US Cellular, you will get nothing and like it. Running cards was hit or miss, and the phone was draining its battery looking for the network so quickly, we actually had to run to the hardware store to buy an emergency backup battery which we drained and then had to recharge with a car charger to use again. Till our neighbor (may His noodley appendage touch her life with goodness) sweet talked the business we were in front of into letting her share their wifi, then hooked us up with the super secret password, we were kinda screwed. Fortunately, the patrons seemed beyond willing to write checks and fetch cash, so this is something everyone seems used to. Other thing, hotel. They book up like lightnin’ and it’s not cheap thanks to the Dells being right there. The closest and cheapest (that we were willing to sleep in, I don’t want bedbugs) thing we found was half an hour away in Sauk City and $125 a night, and this was after I called six or seven hotels, motels and B&Bs looking for a room. ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE. For basically a Super 8. I have never paid so much for a damn bed and a shower. Yes, I’m cheap, but in my defense, I’m broke as well so, there you go. I swear, I’m just gonna go ahead and book a room in winter when I apply to the show, which I will cancel if they don’t let me in, because damn. But? These are for real my only complaints. Overall this was probably one of my best experiences doing a show.

So wtf thing one, people were way not into shrines. Like, some of them seemed offended by them. Which baffles me, but then I’m not even slightly religious, so I don’t know what heathen thing I’m doing that’s upsetting people. Also, random creepy dude waaaaay into my tats. Which is fine, but for the “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’d really like to see you naked.” Now how could I possibly take that the wrong way????? Insert feminist rant. Yanno, for the most part I’m impossible to offend, but dude, inside voice, mkay? I didn’t need to hear that shit.

Conclusion? I’d highly recommend this show to anyone considering it, odd creeper notwithstanding. Totally going back next year.

Next up, Northbrook!