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Merchants Crossing hosts crafts fair
January 31, 2018

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The annual crafts fair at Merchants Crossing always seems to be a hit, with thousands of people showing up over the weekend to browse, snack and even buy some unique pieces from crafters from all over.

Sally Mere, who promotes the 15 regional shows from Ellenton to Naples, from November to March, had a partner who helped her for about 25 years. As of last year, though, Mere has been on her own.

This created some challenges.

The partner did all the advertising and promotions, Mere said.

"I had to learn that and when you don't know what you're doing, people will take advantage of you. I got help, though," she added.

To complicate matters more, Hurricane Irma forced Mere to switch locations. When your advertising consists of signage put out just days beforehand, that adds even more to the challenge.

"We're really not allowed to put out signs. We take them out a week before, sometimes even on Friday night, and pick them up when it ends," Mere said. "All things considered, things have not been bad."

The crowd and wind did not keep the people away on Saturday (Sunday's threat of rain was another matter). More than 60 vendors were there to sell their wares, well up from those who take part every week for Sally's "Road Show."

"I have a base group of about 15 to 20. The rest are new vendors for each show," Mere said. "We have a dip vendor, an iron person the kettle corn person and a few others who have been with us all season."

That dip vendor, John Allison of Simply Savory, had by far the busiest tent in the lot, with people trying out all sorts of dips, from dessert style to five-alarm.

Allison said he works on the flavors in the kitchen in Orlando so they can be packaged and sent to all the craft shows in Florida. All told, there are about 80 flavors, 40 of which were up for sample with people carrying cups full of skinny pretzels.

"We get a lot of visitors who come by for a quick snack or even see what we have," Allison said. "People are very interested and have never seen anything like this before. They come from all over the country."

Nearby, Chuck Robertson, of Tampa, was selling his work using driftwood cedar in which he creates amazing artwork. Depending on the work the pieces sell for anywhere between $100 and $500.

"I see a piece of wood and I have a gift where I know what that piece of wood can be. When I take it home, I know what it will be," Robertson said. "It takes as much as three days to make one. The finish is three-fourths of the work."

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