LA GRANDE — The holiday season has long been a staple of American life. With it comes the comfort of familiar habits — tree lightings, parades, religious services, taking the kids to see Santa — but perhaps none are so loved or so lucrative as that most precious of holiday traditions:
Americans love to shop. For evidence, look no further than the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported retail sales in the United States surpassed $19 billion in December 2018.
But with the coronavirus pandemic disrupting brick-and-mortar shopping and small-market art scenes, some are urging shoppers to do their holiday gift-buying locally this year.
That’s where Art Center East’s Handmade Holidays comes in, the La Grande holiday market featuring local artisans.
“Artists have taken such a hit during the pandemic, from loss of revenue due to restricted farmers markets and cancelled art fairs, to loss of opportunities to earn income through teaching or exhibiting,” said Darcy Dolge, Art Center East’s executive director. “When Union County went into Phase 2, we decided to go forward with Handmade Holidays, an important sales opportunity for working artists in our community.”
Handmade Holidays, a more than decade-old tradition at Art Center East, is set to go forward in spite of the COVID-19 situation — with some modifications.
The number of vendors for this year’s Handmade Holidays has been cut by about 30% to allow for better distancing, and shoppers will be required to practice proper social distancing and mask wearing. No more than 50 people will be allowed into the event at one time to comply with the two-week pause Gov. Kate Brown implemented earlier this week.
“It is going to feel a little different than previous years,” said Jennifer Durr, Art Center East’s program assistant. “There will be a lot less mingling and hanging out, but we hope that the quality of goods available will still bring in shoppers, giving local artists a much needed economic boost.”
Shoppers can expect to find an array of hand-crafted goods for sale, including artwork, ceramics, jewelry, glass and wood products, screenprints and leather creations, all made by local artists.
Sarah West, communications outreach coordinator for Art Center East, estimated as many as 70% of featured artists were based in Union County. All are from Eastern Oregon.
Handmade Holidays will take place Friday, Nov. 13, 4-8 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 14, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Art Center East, 1006 Penn Ave., La Grande. Entry is free.
Those planning to attend are strongly encouraged to RSVP at artcentereast.org to reserve a time slot for their visit, as the 50-person capacity limit could lead to lines outside the building.