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A Handmade Christmas: Community comes out for early holiday shopping

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Nov 27, 2020

From left, Marry Me In WV officiant Christa Keppler, of Martinsburg, talks with customers Lisa Almaraz and Julia Plant, both of Winchester, in Morgan's Grove Park on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Morgan’s Grove Park swarmed with shoppers on Saturday, as they took advantage of a local opportunity to begin Christmas shopping a week before the Christmas season commenced.

Thirty-seven local artists, seamstresses, crafters and chefs set up booths along the gravel road cutting through Morgan’s Grove Park, as they participated in A Handmade Christmas in Shepherdstown. The five-year-old annual event had previously been held in Town Run Tap House and Community Pub, but due to the pub’s closure, the arrival of the COVID-19 Pandemic and unseasonably warm weather, event organizer Michelle Kwiatkowski decided to move the event outdoors.

For returning vendors, the event proved to be an unexpected success. According to Cotswold Downs Crafts co-owner Sue Brownsmith, she had already sold out of two products — wine topper gnomes and bookmarks — after a couple of hours at the event. Seeing this amount of sales success was encouraging to her and her daughter, Melanie Brownsmith, who co-owns and runs the business with her.

“It would have never worked indoors — not with this number of people wanting to come through!” Melanie said, mentioning crafters like her and her mother depend on in-person events to make a living. “For me, in a way, this is my job! I don’t have another one, so if [arts and craft sales] are all canceled, that’s it! Sadly, crafts online don’t come across the same as in person. People can’t see it, can’t touch it, so they aren’t as likely to buy our products online — when it comes to textiles, it’s a very hands-on thing.”

Although this year was her first time selling at A Handmade Christmas in Shepherdstown, Coffee Cake owner Mary Kinnie said her positive experience made her excited to return to sell at next year’s event.

Cotswold Downs Crafts co-owner Sue Brownsmith talks with customers Susan Mitchell and Robert Mitchell, of Leesburg, in Morgan's Grove Park on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

“I would say we definitely got a rush this morning! I was hoping for this much business,” Kinnie said, mentioning she relies on sales of her baked goods, which include vegan and gluten-free options, to pay her bills. “I think this event is doing so well, because everything else has been canceled. As long as we [can be] outdoors, I think that this will be the way to go.”

Attendees Susan and Robert Mitchell, of Leetown, agreed they were glad the event had been held outside this year.

“It’s hard to keep people socially distanced inside — you’d have to count the people and have to have staff on the floor. It’s much safer outside, and we’re so lucky with the weather today!” Susan said, referring to Saturday’s sunny sky and 70-degree temperature.

While the couple does not live in Shepherdstown, Susan said they make it a habit to patronize local small business owners — whether they sell their wares in craft festivals or brick-and-mortar stores.

“I’ll be back out on Saturday, for Small Business Saturday,” Susan said. “We want the small businesses in Shepherdstown to stay around!”

Lauren Ingram, of Bunker Hill, walks around A Handmade Christmas in Shepherdstown with her seven-month-old son, Carter Pennell, on Saturday afternoon. Ingram is the owner of Rae Lane Customs, which was selling a variety of Christmas-inspired gifts, including personalized children's Christmas Eve boxes, reusable cups and Santa Treat Placemats. Tabitha Johnston

Marry Me In WV set up an example of the outdoor weddings it can host, as part of A Handmade Christmas in Shepherdstown on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

Shoppers wander through booths in Morgan's Grove Park on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston