To tuly experience the ultimate in craft shows, one must attend the American Craft Council's Winter Market in Baltimore. This year marks the 34th edition of this amazing event.
With over 700 exhibitors, this is the largest juried indoor craft market in the country. Taking place at the Baltimore Convention Center located in downtown Baltimore, only blocks from the Inner Harbor, the doors opened for wholesale buyers yesterday and today and will open for the retail market tomorrow through Sunday. This is truly an elite event, or as The Big Guy would call it a "La De Da Craft Show." All of the merchandise available is of the highest possible standard and is displayed in a manner befitting any shop you might find on Rodeo Drive.
The Baltimore show is the flagship of the ACC's shows and is considered a MUST by gallery and shop buyers from around the country. It is highly competitive, very tightly juried, strictly monitored for quality throughout the show and features artists and craftsmen from all over the United States and Canada. The attendance figures for 2009 were 1,100 registered wholesale buyers and 19,000 general (public) attendees. It should be noted, public buyers pay a rather hefty admission price ($15) for the privilege of attending.
I highly recommend attending at least once in your crafting career. The quality of design and the expert execution of each piece is breathtaking. You can not help but be in awe of these great artisans.
It is NOT a show most of us will ever be able to consider doing. Acceptance is EXTREMELY competitive and your work must be gallery quality both in design and workmanship. Here's the catch, you've got to be able to produce in volume even if your work is each a one-of-a-kind piece. You've got to be able to fulfill wholesale orders in a timely manner. In 2008, wholesale sales totaled $7,500,000 ! Not impressed yet? How about public sales of $6,500,000 ? Even spread throughout 700+ sellers, that's a lot of merchandise!!
Most of us would have trouble swallowing the booth, expense too. A 10' x 10' is $2,000 with a 20' x 10' going for $4,000. (20' x 5' are available for $2,800.) Want a corner? Add $400. All booths are also assessed a $65.00 facility fee by the Convention Center. There are quite a few other incidentals associated with booth set up, too. If you are not local and must stay in a hotel, be forewarned, hotels in Baltimore are quite pricey.
Way back, oh about 31 years ago, I did check into doing this show. It was a local event for me. It was a new show and it looked like it might turn out to be quite successful. (I had a retail shop at the time so I had attended the first few years as a wholesale buyer.) It was a pricey venture way back then, too. After obtaining all the paperwork and prepping my application, I chickened out. I was definitely not sure I'd be able to handle the volume at that point. (My merchandise line was completely different from what I do now.) I knew it would mean giving up just about all other shows for the year and letting my shop suffer. I settled for continuing to just go and shop the event. I did that for many years. It's been a few years now since I went and I probably won't make it this week either. There's always next year.
If this has caught your interest, check out the show's website here or for specific information about applying to this show, or any of the other ACC shows (Atlanta, St. Paul and San Francisco), joining the ACC, or to just review the elaborate rules handbook that should be read carefully before applying, check out the Craft Council's site, here.
If you live in the area and decide to attend the show this week, be prepared, not just for the $15/person admission charge, but know that most parking in the area will be $20 for anything over 3 hours (and there's no way you can see this show in that short of a time period), a cold beverage at the Convention Center will run you $2.50. Wear really comfortable shoes and layer your clothes. The Convention Center will get hot!
I recommend driving in, even with the high fees for parking. There are a number of garages within 4-6 blocks of the Convention Center. If you choose to park in the Northwestern suburbs and take the Light Rail (the Eastside does not have Light Rail access), realize you will need to walk a few blocks and the weather should be cold and snowy this weekend. Mass Transit is laughable, especially on weekends.
I hope you do get a chance to attend one of the ACC shows. As mentioned above, they also have shows in Atlanta, St. Paul and San Francisco. They are not quite as large as this one but just as nice. It will give you a chance to see how the top of the industry does it and you will truly appreciate the creativity and workmanship.