For Vicki Meilach, participating in the IU Bazaar Winter Craft Fair at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is an opportunity to visit a town she loves, be appreciated for the work she does and earn extra vacation money from her hobby.
“I love Champaign,” she said. “I love the market. I love the students and the faculty, and I’ve been coming down to the Champaign-Urbana area for many years. I just love this town and the people here appreciate my work and enjoy it, so that’s why I come here.”
The Illini Union Board sponsored the IU Bazaar, a two-day craft and merchandise sale that took place on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana. The annual fair usually runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, but this year the fair remained open until 8 p.m. on Nov. 30 for an after-hours sale. From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., shoppers enjoyed live piano music, appetizers and giveaway prizes, including items from the Illini Union Bookstore, fragrances from Victoria’s Secret and items donated by vendors.
The after-hours sale was created to drum up additional excitement around the crafts fair, said Catherine Link, an Illini Union Board adviser.
Meilach has traveled from the south suburbs of Chicago to Champaign-Urbana for the IU Bazaar Winter Craft Fair for at least four years.She sells handmade stoneware pottery inspired by nature. Her pieces have botanical impressions of flowers and leaves imprinted in the clay.
“When I talk about my work, I say it’s stoneware pottery inspired by nature, and it really is inspired by nature,” she said. “I was able to merge my two hobbies. I love to garden and I love to make pottery, so (for) many of the impressions that I have here, I picked things from my yard.”
Twenty-five vendors participated in the IU Bazaar this year. The vendors sold a variety of items, including handmade jewelry, purses, artwork, clothing, plants, sunglasses and cold-weather gear. Independent consultants for jewelry and candle companies also participated.
The IU Bazaar Winter Craft Fair is a fundraiser for the Illini Union Board. Vendors pay a registration fee of $175, which is used for other programs. The Illini Union Board also sponsors a Mom’s Day craft fair in April.
“We see it as an opportunity to provide a shopping experience for students that may not be able to get off campus, as well as to introduce them to local and regional vendors that they might not otherwise know about, and it’s also a fundraiser for our other programming that happens,” Link said.
Rita Gengry designs and sells historical university coverlets at the IU Bazaar Winter Craft Fair to raise money for the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Guild, a group that supports the symphony and its musical enrichment programs in the community. The money raised is used to provide concerts for local schools, youth scholarships to the Illinois Summer Youth Music Camp and youth concerts at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Gengry designs the coverlets, which depict various historical aspects of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She organizes the layout of the coverlets and researches and writes the history. A mill in North Carolina then does the weaving for Gengry.
“We have a history that goes with the coverlets, and it tells the history of the university,” she said. “We have like 55 things on our coverlets.”
Gengry has had success selling her coverlets at the craft fairs sponsored by the Illini Union Board.
“We started this fundraiser as a one year fundraiser in 1996,” she said. “It was supposed to be a one year fundraiser, and we have done so well at the bazaars and Mom’s Day here that we keep coming back, and the students really, really like them a lot.”
Erica Schrock, an independent consultant for Cookie Lee, participated in the fair to sell the company’s affordable jewelry line.
“I think for us, it’s a lot about exposure and getting the name out there because most people have never heard of Cookie Lee, so it gives us a lot of good exposure,” she said. “It gives us some new contacts and things like that.”
Along with offering vendors the opportunity for exposure, the IU Bazaar Winter Craft Fair gave students, faculty and staff and community members the chance to browse for holiday gifts and affordable items.
“It’s nice,” said Lynn Stanke, who works on campus with graduate students. “I like the opportunity that they give the people on campus to come out and look at these items.”