PHILADELPHIA — Becky Glover took her first — and only — photography course six years ago at Meridian Community College. Today she’s primed to open her photography “booth” at the Neshoba County Fair Arts & Crafts Show July 27.
In 2000, her first year to peddle her wares as a photographer at the Fair, Glover had her doubts. She told her family, “I don’t know if I’ll have three customers or 30, but don’t you all create any ‘false lines’ to make me feel good.”
Little did she know. She began to schedule appointments every 30 minutes for the following day and ended up snapping 92 rolls of film. She charged only $30 per sitting and was constantly late. She was worn to a frazzle.
“I learned the hard way,” she remembered with a grimace.
‘Desi’ — the secret to success
She believes that the follow up success of her business may be traced back to a picture of a Fair neighbor’s dog, “Desi,” who Becky captured on film sitting in a pan of water to escape the notorious Fair heat. The dog’s owner bought 20 note cards with Desi’s picture on the front and used them as Christmas cards. They had Glover’s firm’s imprint on the back.
“I got calls from as far away as New Mexico and Washington state to buy those cards,” she said. She made enough profit in her first six months to buy a digital dark room, the ultimate picture development tool.
Just as last year, her “booth” will be a nine-foot by 12-foot space. It will be one of 92 spaces that surround the pavilion where the high powered political speaking will kick off four days later.
Mack Alford, the man in charge of the show, will have the “honor” of lining out those spaces beginning at 2 a.m. on the 27th. And the line of vendors to fill those spaces will have started two hours earlier. The gate will open at 6 a.m. and each vendor will have 20 minutes in which to set up — all are expected to be ready for business by 7 a.m. and must be open by 9 a.m. Closing time is 5 p.m. — one vendor fudged on that last year and wasn’t invited back.
All this began last March when Alford sent a letter to last year’s participants inviting them to the 2002 event. The letter offered the vendors the opportunity to choose their space by listing their first, second and third choice — earliest entries usually got their preferred spot. Vendors pay $75 for each booth and are limited to no more than two.
“Last year, the limit was three,” Alford said. “But we’ve found that with a few exceptions, the real arts and crafts people don’t really need more than one booth.”
Which brings up another change. While most people still refer to the event as a “flea market,” Alford wants to upgrade it.
“In the past, we’ve had more than 100 booths which was just too crowded,” Alford said. “Now we’re getting away from stuff for resale and are going back to becoming a true arts and crafts show.”
Several years ago, the spaces were allotted on a “scramble” basis — first one to claim the space had it.
“The last time we did that, there was a fight over one of the spaces, so we changed,” said Alford who’s in his third year as chairman. “This is a lot better.”
Like many others that make the Fair such a success, Alford is an unpaid volunteer. He’s a retired Philadelphia schoolteacher, coach and principal. “I was brought up at the Fair — my granddaddy built our Fair cabin in the early 1900s,” he said. Alford’s now pastor of the 50-member Mt. Nelson Baptist Church that was founded in 1837. “That’s a part-time job and a full-time occupation.”
Alford got involved in the show by helping his cousin who was one of his predecessors as chairman. His primary helpers are his cousins and children, according to Fair manager Doug Johnson.
“I help him some, but mine is primarily moral support. It runs like clockwork,” said Johnson.
Alford said vendors will come from at least six states including a Turkish rug dealer from Austin, Texas. Other offerings will range from hand crafted jewelry to Choctaw Indian baskets. Alford cites “Whimsicals,” a vendor from Louisville, as being typical of the unique type craft the Fair attracts.
Whimsicals is owned by Molly and Jane Addkison and they sell chairs, bulletin boards and frames. The chairs are bought at garage sales, flea markets and antique shops and are colorfully refurbished (going price — about $50 each) while the bulletin boards and frames are handmade.
The business got started when daughter Molly decorated her room as a freshman at East Central Community College. Her friends admired her creativity and handiwork and asked her to assist them. From that came Whimsicals. Her mother, Jane, was her helper, and they decided to enter last year’s Fair show.
“We did real well,” Jane said. Needless to say, they’ll return this year.
Molly’s now a junior marketing student at Mississippi State.
“She’s learning a lot and this should sure look good on her resume,” Jane said.
As for Becky Glover, she learned a lot, too. She has a company name —
“‘Oh Meye’, like when you see something pleasant,” she said. And she now schedules appointments every hour and charges $50 per roll of film (a second roll is $25). She knows that the arts and crafts show is an ideal venue for her business.
“Look, the world comes to the Fair,” she said. “If you’ve never been to the Fair before, go to the arts and crafts show. There’s no way I could have exposed my photography to that many people in that kind of atmosphere.”
Mack Alford compares the show weekend to a glorious homecoming.
“I can sit under one of those trees that weekend and after teaching for 30 years, I’ll probably see a majority of my former students,” he said as his voice quivered with emotion.
So the vendors will have their successes and there’ll likely be blasting heat, but overshadowing everything will be the Fair’s unique tradition of uniting family and longtime friends in “that kind of atmosphere.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.