A Gentle Commerce

Remember Snoopy and the lawn chair at Thanksgiving?

That’s me putting up my awning over my booth. The hilarious thing is these contraptions are always called EZ-something. EZ-Up. EZ-Build. About the only EZ thing about it is how EZ it is to take a chunk out of me while I fail to get clicky things to click and shady things to cover.

Protesting “I got this, thanks” is stupid and also dishonest and also possibly lethal, so when veteran boothies come over and offer to help, I say “yes please.”

I also now know to go over and help new booth people set up theirs before someone loses a limb or an eye or something.


Some gigs are really swank. This last weekend I was in a park with soft, cool grass. A guy sat in a nearby gazebo and played show tunes on an electric piano, and Bach. Eager high school volunteers helped me carry all my bins of yarn and helped me put up the awning. They came by to solicitously ask me if I needed more cash – later I realized that they meant change – and filled up my huge water bottle with ice and tea for fifty cents. They put face paint on kids and arranged soccer games and one of them turned pages for the piano playing guy in the gazebo.

Apparently only I found the fact that they were wearing red T-shirts hilarious.

Another gig was in a barn at a county fair. The booth was about half the size advertised, and when I got there my booth neighbors handed me a rake.

To muck my space out with.

No really, sheep crap.

That weekend it was thirty-five degrees in that barn, all day. Rain poured down outside all day and we stood and shivered and tried to look chipper and welcoming for the pathetic trickle of customers walking through. Sven told the story over and over of how I’d nearly torn the poor festival director’s head off. The director asked me right after I’d mucked out my booth how I was doing. “How are you doing, Kate?” he’d asked.

Sven liked to make a scary face while he told the story.  “This is my happy face,” he quoted me saying to the guy, with a snarl.

The woman manning the stall – sorry, booth – next to me left in tears midday on Saturday. She let me keep her tarp, which was stapled up on the back side of the stall, sorry booth, to keep out the sheeting, icy rain.

Around 4pm Sven came around with plastic cups of surprisingly good red wine.

I saw Sven and his wife at another festival recently.  We exchanged the kind of hard, heartfelt hugs you exchange with old friends.


I see many of the same vendors over and over now, at markets and festivals. Some of the same customers, too.

Some boothies at first seem a little standoffish.

At one market, the director waved me into a new spot, a choice one with a parking space in front of the spot and instead of carrying my stuff, or unloading then reparking then coming back, I could just unload straight out of the back of the truck and leave the truck parked there.

“You can’t park there,” a woman said when I pulled the truck in. “That’s Darryl’s space.”

“The director said I could have it,” I told her. “It’s just for today.”

“That’s Darryl’s space,” she insisted. “What happened to Darryl? Is he okay?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “he’s just not here this week. Hi, I’m Kate. I’m just here for this week, normally I’m over there.” I pointed.

She came and shook my hand, while right then the guy on the other side walked over. “Why is she in Darryl’s space?” he wanted to know.

“He’s not here this week,” the woman told him. “This is Kate. She’s okay.”

“But not as cool as Darryl,” I grinned. “Someday I want you guys to love me as much as you love Darryl.”

“Give it some time,” she answered, finally smiling.

Sometimes they seem a little standoffish at first but I found out that some of these markets have been going on for years. Some festivals, for decades. It’s a big, erratic family. In time I’ll fit in.


When it’s slow, boothies admire and covet each other’s wares. We shop.

I traded three skeins of lace yarn for a huge bag of handmade soaps, lotions and balms.

I traded some DK weight for jars of spice including espresso salt and some Ras el Hanout to go in my coffee.


A woman stood in my booth looking at sock yarn.

I’ve learned a lot about sales, in the last two years. I’ve learned on the one hand I never want to be that hovering, pressuring, guilting salesperson. On the other hand, I have to make my day out there worthwhile.

I’ve learned there’s a rhythm to every person’s visit to the booth, and each is a little different from the next. I’ve learned that it’s about making friends, first. Sales will follow. Sometimes it’s just about hearing someone’s story, or telling my own.

She stood there, wavering. Indecision of some kind, and there’s a way of touching a pretty skein of yarn people have when they want it, “but…”

I asked if she was a knitter, or a crocheter. That’s how I usually start off. That makes the weavers smug.

She said she was. She said she was just learning to knit socks, she said. She’d had the same pair on the needles for months now. She should finish them.

“If you finish those socks, you could knit more,” I grinned. “And then more, and more.”
“I’m having a hard time finishing, although I really want to knit socks, I want to knit some more socks…” she confessed and before I could ask if it was just that she was a new sock knitter and maybe she needed some help, she said “my friend was teaching me to knit socks. She died, and I couldn’t finish.”

So I thought, maybe you leave that alone. Maybe you just say wow, and I’m so sorry, and give condolences, and ask about her friend. But sometimes I say too much or I say other things, and so I said those things and also “you could just put the socks aside,” I said. “Those are some pretty emotionally laden socks. When you’re ready you could knit some other ones. And then go back to those, or not, and that’d be OK.”

She thought about it. “I think I’m done with the other ones for now,” she agreed, and bought herself some new sock yarn, in a bright color. She said her friend would have approved of it, and walked out of my booth with a package of new sock yarn under her arm.



At the end of the day, the bread vendor comes around. He has huge, round, crusty loaves of bread in his arms, awkwardly caught in his hands, too many really to carry although he does a great day’s business. His booth is always thronged with customers.

“Who’s taking the cinnamon raisin?” he asks. “Who wants sourdough?”

We all get a fresh loaf of bread to take home.

Or sometimes it’s a bag of garlic that didn’t sell, or sometimes I send someone home with a skein of yarn they were admiring.

We make our final trades, we all ask “how’d you do?” solicitously.

“See you next week,” we say.



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