Tents and tables full of handcrafted goods will pop up on pastoral plains and inside climate-controlled convention centers this week, Oct. 12-16, for the annual Northwest Arkansas Fall Craft Fairs.
On the outskirts of Rogers is the fair that started it all — War Eagle, which is in its 62nd year. In fact, longtime fairgoers still refer to craft fair weekend as War Eagle Weekend despite the fact that fairs are now held across a wider range of locations within Northwest Arkansas.
War Eagle takes place outside along the banks of the War Eagle River and next to the historic War Eagle Mill, while other fairs like the Frisco Station Mall Arts & Crafts Festival are located indoors.
Many fairs require exhibitors to be juried or screened prior to acceptance. Types of goods offered are wide ranging. Stained glass, leather, basketmakers, jewelry, woodworkers, oil and acrylic painting, sculpture, and lots of other handmade arts and crafts are available. Holiday theme items are in abundance as well as seasonal decorations. Most fairs offer the opportunity to watch artisans at work.
Spread across Northwest Arkansas and offering different goods and hours of operation, it takes some planning to get the most out of your shopping extravaganza. Veterans of this buying frenzy know there are some tried and true tips for navigating the miles of aisles of handmade goods.
Make a Plan
“For a newbie, I would suggest taking advantage of the maps provided in the local paper,” says Debbie Kryer of Texas, who first started attending the fairs with family members in 1995. “Start early with the venue farthest away and make your way back into town to avoid some of the traffic.”
“As painful as morning can be, it’s better to be the early bird. Usually it means less waiting in line and more selection,” agrees Becca Martin, features editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
“Prepare to sit in the car in traffic by having some good snacks and drinks and be patient and kind to other drivers” adds Kryer. “Prepare for various types of weather too — hot, cold, wet — by having clothing and shoe options in your car.”
Take a Shopping Bag
“Always, always, take a good, sturdy shopping bag, and always find out if the fair has a central place to hold items until you’re ready to leave,” suggests Martin.
“It’s helpful to have a large tote to place purchases in so you can be hands free. Wheeled carts and wagons are sometimes seen but not always pedestrian friendly in tight spaces,” Kryer adds.
“The tradition in many families and groups of friends is matching shirts — usually T-shirts or denim shirts — and a schedule,” says Martin. “The shirts might sound silly — but it helps keep track of everyone in your party.”
Divide and Conquer
“Everyone knows everyone else’s passions and whims, so it’s okay to divide and conquer, but we always meet at the end of each row to share what someone else might have missed. Keep your eyes open and check out other patrons, too. They might have found exactly what you want and can tell you where they got it,” Martin says.
“Have a plan to communicate if you get separated from fellow shoppers” adds Kryer. “Everyone moves at a different pace and separation is inevitable, so a designated meeting place and time can save you a lot of frustration.”
Eat and Drink
“Drinks at a crafts fair can be expensive, so if you know you’re going to need lots of water or soda, it’s probably better to pack a bottle. But you’ve got to plan to spend money on the food — funnel cakes, corn on the cob, blooming onions and, at War Eagle Mill’s fair, even baklava. War Eagle Fair has the best burgers, and Sharp’s Show at War Eagle the best blooming onions,” Martin explains.
Think About Spending
How do you decide how much to spend? Martin says ask yourself if you think you’ll regret not buying something you’re interested in when you’ve left that fair and won’t be able to go back. “If the answer is yes, pull out the plastic. Most vendors take it now!” she says.
Kryer adds, “Take time to enjoy the day and creative atmosphere. Talk to the vendors and listen to their stories. Show appreciation for their talents. Laugh and make some unique purchases. Christmas shop!”
Northwest Arkansas becomes a shopping mecca not only in autumn but also during the annual spring craft fair weekend, which in 2017 is set for May 5-7.