Arts and Crafts Fair is memorable

The day was hot. Sweat crept down the back of my neck as I trudged behind my mom, one step and then another. We made our way down a street, also hot and lined with makeshift storefronts. My feet didn’t want to move and my legs hurt. I was tired of walking. Tired of shopping. I don’t remember voicing my complaints, but I suppose I did. Mom might remember. If I did and if she does, she probably remembers the day as one nightmares are made of.

There were people everywhere. I imagined the town we were in was the largest in the world—or at least the largest I’d ever visited. Even though Mom bought me a ribbon-laden crown to wear, I vowed I’d never walk another step at that thing called Hillsboro Arts and Crafts Fair. In the years following, Mom still looked forward to it and went each year. I stayed home in the cool of the AC, probably with a book in hand.

Fast forward to my early adulthood. I was a freshman at Tabor College. I now understood that the city I thought so vast as a 10-year-old was really a town that was quite manageable to navigate. Mom was making her yearly trip to the fair, so I thought I’d go join her for a few blocks. Those few blocks turned into walking the entire fair. I didn’t want to miss anything. I even found a couple items for my dorm room.

I was hooked.

With the exception of one fair I missed while attending a wedding, Mom and I have walked the streets of Hillsboro ever since. I’ve grown to love the fair—even serving as the marketing director for awhile, and I remain on the fair board. I also love spending the day with my mom!

In its 50 years of existence, I know it has been a gathering place for other people as well. When I filled the marketing director role, I asked a question on social media about how people heard of our fair. Overwhelmingly people heard of it by word of mouth, as family groups and friend groups invited each other to travel to Hillsboro on the third Saturday of September. Some people carpool, trusting they will have enough ingenuity to cram purchases into a vehicle’s nooks and crannies for the trip home. Some use the fair as a meeting spot, traveling from various cities but meeting together to catch up with each other and shop.

Another thing people shared during that same series of social media questions was how much they look forward to the fair food. Yummy goodies are placed throughout the fair each year. I got hooked on a local business a couple years ago and now I can’t go to the fair without buying lumpia by Wok and Rolls. This year I hope to slip into the Kaffeehaus and check out a new duo of participants—mom Heidi and daughter Rachel with their beautifully decorated baked goods. And I almost guarantee that hubby and I will each separately buy a bag of candied almonds. We always laugh at our matching purchase, but wouldn’t you know, the excess disappears without trouble.

At lunchtime, hubby and Dad bring the kids downtown. We disperse, select food for lunch, and reconvene on the west side of Dales, always hopeful to snag some shade along the store’s exterior wall. We usually get lucky. I have yet to take my kids through the whole fair. I want them to have fond memories and frankly, the less complaints the better. But after lunch, Mom and I take them to a few booths where we’ve seen things they might like. My middle daughter is already planning to take her money to the fair to buy “something.” Maybe she’ll buy my lumpia. Before heading back home, my dad usually stands in the Igloo line with the kids to buy shaved ice. Seeing Mr. and Mrs. Loewen is also a treat.

For Mom and me, the early afternoon is our wrap-up. Lunch gives us the extra boost we need to finish browsing and then revisit places to either make final purchases or pick up the purchases we didn’t want to carry. This year we’ll have a family booth to browse. My cousin Kasey, owner of KC Creations, will be a vendor at the fair for the first time. I’m excited to visit her booth, among so many others. (Speaking of vendors, be sure to like the fair’s Facebook page to get sneak peeks of available merchandise before the event.)

The Arts and Crafts Fair really is special. It takes so much more than our fair board to make this large-scale event happen every year. We couldn’t do it without the community at large, volunteers and our local business owners. We know that blocking the streets can feel like a nuisance, the influx of crowds and traffic overwhelming, the pokey internet connection an inconvenience, but looking at the larger picture, the fair is a major boost for our community.

It’s 50 years strong and I for one am proud to walk through it each year, sweat, tired feet and all.

Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog,

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