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Asheville an "Artistic Hub"

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (10/17/03)


By John Boyle, Senior Writer

ASHEVILLE - When people travel thousands of miles and partly build their vacation around your craft fair, you've hit paydirt.

Jim Jolly and his "significant other," Margo Schmidt, ventured east from Palo Alto, Calif., for a three-week vacation that very intentionally includes the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands. They spent part of Thursday in craft heaven, browsing the 180 booths of the fair in the Asheville Civic Center.

"We're doing the fall foliage, Civil War history, arts and crafts and the seacoast," Jolly said. "We flew into Atlanta and rented a car. We made it a point to include this show."

The fair brought in 1,954 visitors Thursday, 127 more people than the first day of last fall's show.

"We thought it was really striking that the fair opens at 10 o'clock and at 9:45 the whole lobby of the Civic Center was filled," said Lindsay Hearn, spokeswoman for the Southern Highland Craft Guild, which puts on the event.

The four-day, twice-yearly fair is one of the strongest draws at the Asheville Civic Center, according to director David Pisha.

And this occurs in what is arguably the arts capital of the Southeast - the Asheville area boasts 4,000 artists and ranks third in the country behind New York and San Francisco.

"It's easily one of most important trade shows we have," Pisha said. "We always expect it to draw probably over 10,000 people. On the other hand, from a quality standpoint, the crafts are without a doubt some of the finest people will find anywhere."

Andy Costine of Tryon is one of those craftsmen, and he says the Asheville event is his favorite. His handcrafted, intricate woodwork drew a steady buzz of interest from shoppers Thursday.

"I do shows all over the country, from Detroit to Miami," Costine said. "It's nice for me to be able to sleep at home during this show, and my sales are better than at any show in the country."

During a good craft fair, he'll sell in the neighborhood of $10,000 worth of merchandise, about 18 percent of his income for a year.

That kind of money changing hands really has a far- reaching impact in the community, according to Marla Tambellini, assistant vice president of the Asheville Convention visiors Bureau.

"There's sometimes a misnomer that visitors are only spending their dollars with tourism-related industries," Tambellini said. "The truth of the matter is those dollars find their way through every sector of the economy."

A successful business might expand and buy services from contractors, for example, or a pottery artist might derive more business from the show, resulting in more orders to local clay suppliers.

"Cultural travelers," such as those attending the crafts fair, tend to spend about $200 more dollars a day than regular tourists per household - about $603 - according to the Tourism Industry Association of America. The Asheville area hosted 6.4 million visitors last year.

Shows such as the craft fair also boost the region's reputation, which can bring travelers back for another visit. The show's exhibitors hail from nine states, and shoppers come in from all over the country.

"I'm impressed," Marilyn Taylor, a resident of Evergreen, Colo., said as she browsed the booths. "I think Asheville has a really high quality of crafts, and the artists do a really good job in terms of presenting things that are impressive."

Of course, not all the shoppers are from out of town. The event draws lots of local people who also appreciate top- notch artwork, including Asheville resident Mary Anne Paul, who spent "more than $500" Thursday on a handmade quilt and ceramics.

"I go to this as frequently as I can," Paul said as she hauled the wares to her car. "We have a tremendous arts and crafts community in the Asheville area. I really love to support local businesses anyway, but I think it's a real gift to have this community right here."

Contact Boyle at 232-5847 or [email protected]

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