Handmade entrepreneurs replacing the 9-5 norm

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio - The saying goes, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." That's just what several handmade entrepreneurs are doing to supplement their income in today's economy.

As artists and crafters continue to work both full-time jobs, and sell their handmade goods, the surge in local art and craft events has taken off. The result is a quickly growing local business niche.

One event serving as a stage to spotlight these local artists and crafters is the popular Avant-Garde Art & Craft show, where organizers have seen a significant spike in vendor participation.

Becki Cooper, founder of the shows, started growing her vendor list with just 45 vendors back in 2011. Since then, that list has grown to over 1,500 vendors -- a trend Cooper attributes to the economy.

"I think there are two distinct trends I see with our shows. There are the artists that have been fortunate enough to make this their full-time career from the beginning; and then there are those doing this for extra income while employed full-time," said Cooper. "In an economy where job stability is so uncertain, creating a business with a unique product that sells is a great way to pay the bills, or take that family vacation. Many times a lot of the vendors find their products to be so successful, that they end up pursuing it as a fulltime career."

Cooper herself is a former 9 to 5er who found herself laid-off from an advertising agency job, and decided to pursue a career of hosting the shows full-time.

"There's definitely something to be said when you feel like you are in charge of your own economic fate," said Cooper. "My hope is by offering these types of events, these entrepreneurial spirited artists and crafters can have the same freedom."

At any event, shoppers can expect to come across a variety of unconventional items that define the norm, including upcycled home furniture, memo boards from fabric, large canvas paintings, and jewelry made from vintage brooches, just to name a few. Majority of the vendors are also able to take custom orders on site.

One frequent Avant-Garde shopper, Sydney Arnett, shared her experience of the Avant-Garde shows. "This show is a great event to attend because not only are you getting a unique item at each show, but you also know you are getting a quality item that is 100 percent handmade in the USA and putting money back into the community. It's nice to meet the face behind a product and to support the local artisans!"

The next Avant-Garde Art & Craft Show will take place March 23 and 24 at the Rocky River Memorial Hall (21016 Hilliard Blvd.) The shows will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days and feature nearly 100 handmade-juried artist and crafters.

Admission is $3 for adults and free for children under the age of 12. A portion of the proceeds will be donated Cleveland non-profit Project Night Night. The show will also feature a concession stand on site provided by the Arc of Summit and Portage Counties, and all the proceeds from the concession stand will be donated to the Arc.

For more information on vendors, visit www.avantgardeshows.com.

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