My Soapbox: Grace Dobush, Crafty Supermarket

If you've ever shopped at Crafty Supermarket, a juried show featuring all handmade goods that's been happening here in Cincinnati since 2009, you might have wondered how all those talented vendors—hailing from both Cincinnati and across the United States—ended up in one room together.

Grace Dobush is the creative entrepreneur who co-founded Crafty Supermarket, now one of the region's largest indie craft shows. Dobush still runs the event in addition to making her own crafts and working as a full-time freelance journalist.

Her editorial experience includes everything from politics to graphic design to genealogy, and she's also the author of the Crafty Superstar craft business guides. She's written for publications including Wired, Cincinnati Magazine, HOW and the Cincinnati Art Museum’s members’ magazine.

We recently reached out to Dobush to learn more about the history of Crafty Supermarket, how crafters are selected to participate and what to expect from the 2014 shows, coming up April 26 at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, and in November at Music Hall.
 
Tell me a little bit about your background in crafting and how you came up with the idea for Crafty Supermarket?
I've been doing printmaking since junior high and bookbinding for about 15 years, and I started selling my work online before Etsy, back when you had to ask people to mail you a money order or check if they wanted to buy something from you. From 2003 to 2006, I started selling my stuff at indie craft shows in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, joined Etsy and just got really involved in the indie craft scene. There was a whole generation of (mostly) women who were into reclaiming "craft" as a cool thing to do and making businesses from it in the early 2000s, and I met a lot of those people online and at these shows. I lived in Pittsburgh after college, and loved being a seller at the Handmade Arcade show there. When I moved to Cincinnati, there wasn't anything like that, and I really wished that there was. So while at a craft conference in DC, I met Alisha Budkie, who happened to also live in Clifton, and we realized that it was ridiculous that indie crafters didn't have some kind of event in Cincinnati to bring us together. We did that first show in 2009 at the Northside Tavern, and it just grew from there. Chris Salley Davis joined us in organizing it after the first show, and for the last few years she and I have run the show together. 

Did you have any experience running a business, and if not, what resources did you draw from?
I pretty much taught myself when it came to running a creative business, and that's what inspired my Crafty Superstar books. They're business guides for part-time crafters—basically, the business books I wished I'd had when I was starting out. We've learned how to create the kind of business we want to see more of: one that's sustainable and makes good choices when it comes to sourcing and the environment. 

How was Crafty Supermarket initially funded, and how is it funded now?
We funded the first show ourselves and broke even, which was our goal. We have essentially the same setup now: We are funded by sponsors and partners, as well as application fees and table fees, and that covers all our expenses and our time. We're a very small business, but we love that we're able to sustain it and grow it with our small setup. 

How has Crafty Supermarket changed over the years? If I attended an early show but haven't been for a few years, what do I need to know?
The first show at the Tavern was so tiny, looking back now. We had 15 tables in the back room and absolutely packed the place with 1,000 shoppers. And our most recent holiday show was so huge! We had 90+ vendors at the Music Hall Ballroom and about 4,000 shoppers. For our spring show, which is typically smaller than the holiday show, we're going to be back at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, which has been our home the last few years. We love being able to partner with historic Cincinnati venues like the CCAC and Music Hall, both of which were on my list of dream venues when we were starting out. 

What percentage of the show is comprised of local crafters vs. out-of-towners? What about new vs. returning vendors? Break it down for me.
We get applications from people from all over the United States (and a few from Canada), and we love being able to draw top-level crafty talent to Cincinnati. In the last few shows, about half of the vendors have been from Ohio and the other half have represented a dozen states, from as far away as Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Carolina. We always aim to have at least 30 percent new people at our shows. We have a lot of favorite sellers, but we want to make sure shoppers always have new stuff to see, so we unscientifically rotate people out to make sure that a third of the vendors at any show are new to us. 

What's on the horizon for Crafty Supermarket? Do you have any upcoming changes in store or big dreams for the show?
Our Music Hall Ballroom show was a big step for us—we didn't want to make the move to a bigger venue for our holiday show until we were sure that we could attract enough shoppers to make it a good time for our vendors, and we feel like the timing ended up being perfect. We're just about to finalize our holiday show date at Music Hall for November, but in the meantime, we're getting ready to create the lineup for our April 26 show at the CCAC after the vendor application deadline on March 1. 

People often ask us if we will take our show to other cities, but, honestly, indie craft shows are best when they're home-grown, and most every midwestern city has one of its own. There's Craftin' Outlaws in Columbus, INDIEana Handicraft Exchange in Indianapolis, Detroit Urban Craft Fair, and the list goes on and on. 

What keeps you fired up about the show after almost five years? What do you love most about it?
What's really crazy is that five years ago, hardly any of us knew each other, and we were just working away in our own studios or homes, thinking there was no one else like us in the city. And now Crafty Supermarket has become this central point for the handmade scene in Cincinnati, and a lot of us have become really good friends. Any time you go to an indie craft show, it's like a big weird family reunion for the vendors. Plus, my business partner Chris is basically one of my favorite people on the planet.

What's your take on the craft scene in Cincinnati? Are their unique opportunities or challenges for crafters living in this area? Any niche not being filled or anything this area is particularly strong in?
I've loved seeing the scene converge and grow since we started. One thing that still surprises me is when new local people apply to the show who just blow us away, and we're like, "Where in the world did you come from?!" Like Matt Cave/Rad Couch and A Fluttered Collection, who were new vendors for us last year. The major benefit of working in the city, I think, is the low rent, so you see a lot of cool design collectives happening, like Losantiville, and the connections that come from places like Essex Studios. There's also a new maker space up north called the Manufactory, and I hope that we see more stuff from people playing with lasers and makerbots.

Do you have any other business ventures in the works?
At the start of this year, some friends and I rented a studio space together in Camp Washington that we're calling Saga Space and are really excited about. We're still setting up our workspaces (we're a paper artist, a vintage clothing seller, a cross stitcher and a photographer), but we want to eventually have events and workshops in the space to help connect creative businesspeople. Other than that, I'm going to be speaking at the World of Crafters conference in Athens, Greece, at the end of March, which I am SO stoked about. 

You're not from Cincinnati originally. What drew you to and kept you in Cincinnati?
I'm originally from the Cleveland area, but I moved here from Pittsburgh almost seven years ago to work for F+W Media as a magazine editor. I worked there for five years, but then in 2012 I went freelance, and I've been writing and editing for national publications since then, alongside doing Crafty Supermarket stuff. I feel a little like I've had one foot out the door since I moved here, but the friends I've made and the low rent just keeps on keeping me here. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with Soapbox readers?
Buy handmade!

Crafty Supermarket is still accepting applications for its spring show, which will take place at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center on April 26. Interested crafters can apply for the juried show until March 1 by visiting http://craftysupermarket.wordpress.com/2014-spring-crafters/.

Sarah Whitman is Soapbox Cincinnati's managing editor.
 

Read more articles by Sarah Whitman.

Sarah Whitman is a freelance writer/editor with an emphasis on design and creativity. She served as Managing Editor of Soapbox Media from 2012 to 2014.
Signup for Email Alerts