The business of art fairs
High Country Business Review
Art fairs can be either an amazing or an undesirable creation.
The idea behind them often involves bringing consumers to local businesses, so they’ll spend money. But that does not always happen.
Some Breckenridge businesses maintain that art festivals held in town parking lots hurt business, because it reduces the number of parking spots around town. Others, particularly galleries, say fairs are bad for business no matter where they’re located, because potential customers buy on the streets, rather than in the galleries.
Alhough Kristina, of Kristina’s/Gold Jewelry Design, has not been affected negatively by any drop in customer traffic because her 17-years of history in the business have given her a solid foundation, she worries about new businesses.
“The thing that really concerns me is people starting stores; it’s so difficult for them,” she said. “They’re hit the hardest by the craft fairs. Fairs take off that extra little bit that helps make them (profit).”
And it’s not just in Breckenridge where business owners have concerns. Bill Bickerton, owner of Columbine Gallery in Frisco, said the street events in Frisco hurt his business significantly. However, he acknowledges they may bring visitors back into his store on other weekends, and he sees restaurants swell during the weekends, with one-hour wait times.
He shares Kristina’s wish that art fairs would take place during the shoulder seasons, rather than during busy summer weekends. The town of Breckenridge is taking merchants’ desires into consideration, not by creating a mud season event, but, rather, by not allowing any fairs on town property during the already busy Fourth of July weekend. It also supports fairs on the north end of town, since merchants expressed the perception that “nothing happens on the north end of Main Street,” said Kim DiLallo, town spokesperson.
For many businesses, it depends on where the art fairs are located. Even a few blocks ” at the north or south side of Breckenridge ” can make or break sales. For example, when Breckenridge held an art fair in 1999 at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena parking lot, located off of Main Street and far from businesses, merchants told the town they didn’t prefer it because there wasn’t an opportunity to create walking traffic, DiLallo said.
When the art fairs took place at the old Bell Tower in Breckenridge, David Pfau, owner of Buffalo Photography in Breckenridge for 15 years, saw an increase in business, but now that the fairs tend to be on the periphery of town, he said they don’t affect his business one way or the other.
In the Vail Valley, location seems to be even more important. During a couple of art fairs in Lions Head, the only people who came into Gore Creek Gallery stopped by to ask how to get to the fairs, said Jason Hoff, art director. He said he rarely sells anything during out-of-town art fairs, such as those in Beaver Creek.
But not everyone thinks art fairs are a bad thing. Chuck Struve owns Mountain T’s in Breckenridge and Vail, Cabin Fever in Breckenridge and Maui Traders in Vail. His business picks up during or after art fairs, and he believes the events help bring people back to town ” and shops. His daughter and son-in-law’s restaurant, the Columbine Cafe, also prospers during the events.
The fairs not only bring potential customers, but also sometimes 100 artists who need lodging and contribute to restaurant sales. Struve said he meets vendors at each show who tell him about their favorite restaurants, or ask him for recommendations.
“They help the overall economy,” Struve said. “And people who are art-oriented go in almost all of the galleries in town, so I think it’s people (galleries) don’t ordinarily see.”
A study of art fairs showed that art festival patrons are culturally affluent consumers who often stay one to three nights during a festival and patronize local restaurants and shops. Generally, they spend more than $200 a day during the course of a weekend, according to a July, 2005, Breckenridge Resort Chamber and town of Breckenridge visitor survey.
Business owners in Dillon have hopes that the town’s first art fair in recent years will attract more energy in town, said Carol Craig, who has worked in events planning for the past 13 years.
Frisco hopes to stir a similar energy by brining in a show produced by Howard Alan, who directs some of the country’s top art festivals, including the Beaver Creek Art Festival and the Aspen Art Festival. When the town surveyed merchants, Frisco spokesperson Linda Lichtendahl said all but one ” a gallery ” had positive feedback and didn’t think the event would compete with them. In fact, one reason the town chose the event is because it wasn’t centered around food, which competes with Main Street’s many restaurants, she said.
Art fairs also can boost gallery business by introducing people to art in a nonthreatening way, said Laurie Asmussen, producer of Eagle Valley events.
“I see festivals provide an outlet for people to start collecting art,” Asmussen said. “It’s a little intimidating to walk into a gallery. Art festivals create comfort ” you can see, touch ” you’re at the same level as the artist … then people will feel confident to walk into a gallery.”
Tom Bassett, gallery director at Claggett-Rey Gallery in Vail, views the fairs as positive, too.
“If anything, it helps,” he said, adding that people tend to buy less expensive art at fairs for casual or less “important” parts of their homes, then walk into his store, which offers high-end, premier Western art, and buy expensive pieces.
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