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It's Mistletoe time: Junior League of Jackson gears up

Brandon Kennedy

Brandon Kennedy

There is a list. And this week, Brandon Kennedy is checking it twice.

The opening of 33rd-annual Mistletoe Market is only days away, and, after 22 months of preparation, Kennedy, the chair of this year’s event, is ready to setup and check off the final details.

Mistletoe Marketplace, the Christmas holiday-themed shopping weekend sponsored by the Junior League of Jackson, is Wednesday through Saturday at the Mississippi Trade Mart. General shopping hours for the event begin Thursday morning and feature about 160 businesses from across the country.

About 35,000 shoppers from around the Southeast will attend the Junior League’s main fundraiser, which provides the funds organization uses to help pay for its 30-plus community projects. Last year’s Mistletoe Marketplace raised almost $1.18 million, according to the Junior League’s annual report. The Junior League is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.

Junior League of Jackson members spent part of their summer working on decorations for the upcoming Mistletoe Marketplace, scheduled for Nov. 6-9.

Junior League of Jackson members spent part of their summer working on decorations for the upcoming Mistletoe Marketplace, scheduled for Nov. 6-9.

But for Kennedy, this almost-two-year volunteer effort has become a daily job since last year’s event ended.

“I was named chair-elect in January of 2012, and I sat on the steering committee and observed the planning for the 2012 event,” said Kennedy. “My committee was chosen in September 2012, and we shadowed and watched last year. Since then, it has become a day-to-day job for me. I’m running a business. Yes, It’s a nonprofit and fundraiser, but it’s a job for me. A volunteer job for me.”

Anything involved with this year’s Mistletoe Marketplace goes through Kennedy.

“I oversee all the decisions,” she said. “I have a committee of 13 others. I attend meetings with our corporate sponsors, meetings with our Friends of Mistletoe, and any meetings with businesses we’re partnering with, I will attend.

“It’s a 22-month commitment for me and my co-chair Jennifer Walker.”

In the world of Mistletoe Marketplace, corporate sponsors are huge, and Kennedy’s job involves daily meetings with potential sponsors throughout the year of planning.

“We have about 110 corporate sponsors, and that includes sponsorships of $5,000 or more in cash or in-kind sponsors,” she said. “Anything under that amount is considered a Friend of Mistletoe. That includes a lot of business and personal sponsors.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 8.23.27 AM“We try to really promote our sponsors because they are a big reason we can do this. Ticket sales are important to us, but corporate sponsorships and merchant booth fees are the bulk of what we do.”

And yes, Virginia, there is a list.

“I’ve laughed, because we have all these notebooks we’ve passed down through the years,” said Kennedy. “But, we do have a master timeline that we live by and check it off monthly. It’s a 40-plus page document we have on a computer, and we print it out and distribute among ourselves.”

And adjustments are made annually to the timeline.

“Last year, we launched Mistletoe Marketplace magazine, so the timeline for that is still a work in progress,” she said. “With the Rudolph Race (a 5K run/walk and 10K run) being new this year, that timeline was a shot in the dark, so we’ll adjust that for next year.”

Other special events this year include a Girls’ Night Out and Rockin’ Down the Runway for Tweens and Teens.

Those events change sometimes change from year-to-year.

“Some of them are recycled in a way, especially the ones we realize are big hits,” said Kennedy. “The Thursday night event, for example, used to be a Business After Hours, but we realized that wasn’t what our crowd was looking for, so we moved it to a Girls Night Out event — and there are very few tickets left for that event because that is what our crowd is looking for: Two hours of shopping, eating and beverages.”

Of course, the shoppers want to know what’s for sale. This year’s list touts 90 out-of-state vendors and 70 vendors from all parts of Mississippi. The vendor list also reflects 57 merchants who weren’t there last year.

“It started 33 years ago with few vendors, but going back as far as I can remember, we’ve had vendors from all over the country,” said Kennedy. “We are very careful in our selection process. We make sure we have a certain percentage of new merchants every year and that a certain percentage of merchants are from the Jackson area, because we want to draw the crowd from all over.

“We usually have about the same number of vendors. Some merchants are rotated and they are not selected to come back each year. We have a system from which we base those decisions. And, of course, some years a merchant chooses not to come back.”

And sometimes merchants must be left out, even when they want to attend.

“That’s the hard part,” she said. We see the sales all together, and we know what our shoppers are looking for. It’s so hard because there may be two booths that sell similar items, and we have to choose the one that will best suit our shoppers’ needs.

“We look very closely. They all apply under categories, and we look closely at the categories they apply under. We try to have a good percentage of each and not be too heavy under one category.

“We have a waiting list of merchants that want to get in,” she said. “We also try to keep our eye out for merchants we might like to have, but we don’t really seek out other merchants.”

“There are so many pieces to the puzzle. You have to watch it all and give attention to detail because you don’t want something slipping through cracks. We have to make sure every little thing happens that is supposed to happen.”

As that marketplace draws closer, volunteers will be unloading decorations that were built over the summer and supplies from the warehouse and setting up in the Trade Mart.

“It’s really neat seeing it from the inside because you see how much work it does really take. But to see it from my perspective is neat because I’ve seen every little detail. I mean, there’s going to be some things that we’ve missed, and we’re going to be running at the last minute to get them, but we try to avoid them much as possible.

“Right now, everything is planned and we’re checking the last few things off the list. Right now signs are being printed, and there are last-minute event details. Tickets are still being sold and processed. Still a lot happening.”

So will Kennedy have time to catch her breath before Wednesday night’s Preview Gala?




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