To snag a booth at the Anoka Riverfest & Craft, artisans must provide proof of their handiwork.
All products sold must be 100 percent handcrafted by the booth vendor, and photographic proof is required. One year, a vendor with “Made in China” labels on wares was asked to pack up and leave immediately.
The Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the one-day event, started enforcing the handmade rule about a decade ago. The first year, they saw a 30 percent drop in vendors, but the one-day festival rebounded and flourished.
This Saturday, more than 15,000 people will come to downtown Anoka to browse the wares of 140 craft and artisan vendors, listen to live music, eat, and check out one of Minnesota’s oldest river cities.
“The goal is to be the largest and best outdoor craft fair in Minnesota. The way to do it is the quality,” said Anoka Area Chamber President Peter Turok. “It has absolutely worked wonders in our favor.”
The Anoka Riverfest & Craft Fair began in 1998 in the aftermath of Anoka’s 120th anniversary celebration. Admission is free, but vendors pay for booth space. Most of the revenue is poured back into the event, but any profits are donated to the city or used by the nonprofit chamber to further its mission.
Profits usually range in the $5,000 to $10,000 range but, “there were years we made 100 or 200 bucks,” Turok said.
The goal isn’t to make money. Rather, it’s about drawing Twin Cities residents to downtown Anoka and creating a buzz that brings people back to shop and eat the other 364 days.
Arts and crafts fall in 25 diverse categories, including homemade bath and body products, clothing, jewelry, sculpture, pottery and glass art.
Bath products made from natural ingredients have become the newest artisan craze, with jewelry also a strong seller, Riverfest organizers say.
How do they enforce the handmade rule?
Applicants submit photos of their work that are reviewed by a team.
During the day of the show, that team will quietly patrol for suspicious-looking merchandise.
“We make sure what is there is what they said would be there,” Turok said.
Other vendors have also been good at helping police the policy — reporting suspicious vendors.
Brooklyn Park designer Karin Henningson will sell her handmade, upcycled skirts, dresses and scarves. Henningson worked for Target for more than a decade, designing new products, often manufactured overseas.
As an entrepreneur, she pieces together secondhand T-shirts and sweaters into wearable, eco-friendly clothing under her ResQue Threads brand at www.resquethreads.com. She is a one-woman business, designing, cutting and sewing each item in her home office.
She applauds Riverfest’s dedication to handmade wares.
“Its nice to have these arts and crafts fairs go back to their roots and really give artists and people who create things with their hands more of an opportunity to showcase their goods,” Henningson said. “… My product is all handcrafted. I do think that is a trend we are seeing. People want uniqueness.”