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In The Pandemic, Shoppers And Artisans Move Outside For Strawberry Swing’s Tenth Annual Holiday Market

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Julie Denesha
Festive mugs glint in the sun advertising Archival Designs' ceramic goods at Strawberry Swing’s 10th Annual Holiday Market. Local artisans Jake and Julie Bond run the custom tile and pottery studio from a storefront in Midtown.

Strawberry Swing is an indie craft festival that usually features 150 vendors and attracts more than 20,000 people to Kansas City’s Union Station. With COVID-19 restrictions, there are fewer makers and the market has been moved outdoors.

The air was frosty as shoppers with timed tickets lined up Saturday morning at the gates of the Haverty Family Yards — a patch of grass just outside of Science City at Union Station. Colorful stickers on the sidewalk helped shoppers to socially distance while they waited to enter Strawberry Swing’s 10th Annual Holiday Market.

Katie Kolster and Deanna Barron arrived as soon as the gates opened. Kolster said the bustling market is her favorite way to kick off the holiday season.

“It’s always very busy, but I was excited that it was going to be a little bit different this year,” Kolster said. “You can take your time and stroll through and see what's going on.”

For Barron, the market is the perfect opportunity to find goods created locally.

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Julie Denesha
Artists and makers set up their wares in tents at Haverty Family Yards. It's an outdoor patch of grass just outside of Science City at Union Station.

“We're just ready to get anything that was made by someone local and small business," she said. "We felt it was really important this year to buy meaningful gifts for our friends and family and to support other people, especially during the hard times.”

In a normal year, the event attracts 150 vendors and draws crowds of more than 20,000 people to Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. This year, pandemic restrictions required a new approach. Organizers of the event took a cue from European open-air markets. Each weekend in December around 45 vendors will display their wares, positioned in socially distant tents.

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Julie Denesha
Indie craft festival organizer Katie Mabry van Dieren speaks to a shopper at the the gates. Timed-tickets and limited entry are the order of the day during the pandemic.

Katie Mabry van Dieren organizes the indie craft festival each year. With so many arts and craft fairs canceled due to lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions, she said finding a way to safely bring holiday buyers and sellers together was a priority.

“I knew that my makers needed it,” van Dieren said. “And I knew that, if we could do this in a safe way, the people of Kansas City needed it too.”

For van Dieren, boosting local business is what the Strawberry Swing is all about.

“Shopping local is so important, especially right now,” she said. “These makers have been hit the hardest because, without having these in-person shows, they need to work hard to sell their stuff online. Supporting them is so great and small businesses give back to this local community way more than big box chains.”

Colorful mugs, bud vases and berry dishes glinted in the sun as husband and wife Jake and Julie Bond set up their display. Together they run Archival Designs, a custom tile and pottery shop in midtown Kansas City.

Selling work at art fairs is a big part of their business and they’ve had a booth at nearly every Strawberry Swing since its inception.

“We shut down our showroom in March,” Julie Bond said. “All of our spring shows got canceled and pretty much all of our summer ones as well.”

Julie Denesha
Julie Bond glazes a mug at Archival Designs, a custom tile and pottery shop in midtown Kansas City.

She said they’ve been fortunate to have local customers keeping them afloat.

“Kansas City has really showed up for us during this whole thing,” she said. “We still have all of our loyal customers have been coming back and and really shopping with us. And we've already had a little holiday surge in the last few weeks and months.”

"The most exciting part of my year is the holidays, “ said Shawana Meeks, owner of Meeks Me Smile Studio.

Meeks creates handbags with quirky color combinations made from sustainable fabrics and vegan cork. Her designs are named for strong women she’s known.

“All of my handbags are named after women in my life who’ve influenced me to be where I'm at today,” Meeks said.

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Julie Denesha
Shawana Meeks, the owner of Meeks Me Smile Studio, cuts fabric for a purse in her home studio in Lone Jack, Missouri.

Her motivation has always been to create a product with something new to say, Meeks added.

“I think what really drove me to make that first bag was just the desire to see something different,” she said. “I’d noticed that a lot of handbags in stores were either trying to mimic a high end handbag or they're more whimsical. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but for me, I want them both to collide.”

Rachael Messner from Messner Bee Farm had her tables stacked with lip gloss, scented lotions, beeswax candles and raw honey.

“I love that the Strawberry Swing is outside with masks on,” says Messner. “I feel like it's a really great environment for us to engage with our customers. I feel like they feel safe. We feel safe and I really love being outside. This is like a fun camping adventure. Of course, I’m saying that because it's sunny outside and it's not raining right now.”

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Julie Denesha
Shoppers line up before a timed-entry at the gates of Haverty Family Yards.

Local potter Louis Reilly manages the KC Clay Guild, a nonprofit ceramic arts center in Waldo. He says he had his eye on the unpredictable Midwestern weather when he chose the first weekend to hawk his earth-toned, soda-fired pottery. Reilly says the open-air setting was appealing.

“Obviously it keeps things safer to have it outdoors, but it’s really cool to have it here by the tracks,” says Reilly. “Trains are going by and everything. So, yeah. It's a really cool venue, cool vibe out here."

Strawberry Swing’s 10th Annual Holiday Market runs Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 20. Visitors can reserve a time slot to shop by buying tickets ahead of time to keep crowds small and controlled.

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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