Fall Arts show this weekend marks 40th anniversary for Briggs Motley Promotions
WILLMAR — The Clara City Fall Arts and Craft Show this Saturday marks a milestone for its organizers Briggs Motley Promotions, who are celebrating their 40th year in business.
Briggs Motley started with two young Clara City women who thought they could put on an OK craft show. Some other women had done a show in town previously but when they left, “We decided to pick it up,” said Sherrie Thein of Clara City.
Thein and Chris Volz of Clara City used their maiden names to name their new business and started what they believe was the beginning of craft show venues in the area.
This year’s show will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Clara City High School and the Event Center in the former junior high building. Admission is $2, and buses will be available to take people from one building to the other.
There are some specials for the anniversary show, including goodie bags and drawings for special items, including two quilts, a rocking motorcycle and works of art.
Many businesses in Clara City run specials that day to take advantage of the increased traffic, she said. Local service clubs run fundraisers connected to the sale weekend.
“When we started, Chris was home making krumkake and I was home making rosettes,” Thein said. “I said, ‘We should sell some of those.’”
Their first show was in the elementary school lunchroom in Clara City with 24 vendors.
They served their secret recipe barbecues, which are still a staple at their shows.
“We can’t ever get rid of them, because people love them,” said Janine Hubbard of Spicer, Thein’s daughter and a new partner in the business after Volz retired.
Other popular food traditions are the desserts, especially carrot cake and the pralines and cream cake. “It’s the only time of the year you can get that stuff,” Hubbard said.
Briggs Motley organizes four shows a year, at Clara City in the spring and fall, at Alexandria in the spring and at Spicer’s Fourth of July celebration.
A number of promoters have come and gone over the years, but Briggs Motley has outlasted them. “They thought it was such an easy deal,” Thein said.
They started out looking for a way to make some money, but their business grew into much more.
“What it did, it made us independent women,” Volz said.
“We grew a lot,” Thein agreed with a smile, “and we learned not to cry when someone told us no.”
Volz recalled how difficult it could be 40 years ago to be a young woman running a business. She recalled being told, “Have your husband come, and we’ll talk.”
Thein said they’ve had fun in the business, too. “I can’t imagine what we would have done instead.”
Most of the items at their shows don’t fall into the category of necessities. “This is definitely entertainment shopping,” Volz said. Many people use the craft shows to do Christmas shopping.
For the people who attend their shows, it’s just a different type of fall hunting, they joked.
Over the 40 years, the company has built a database of vendors they trust. Some have done the Clara City show for many years and are almost like family.
Thein said they have advertised their shows a lot over the years and it helps that they’ve had “many years of putting it on and using the same date.”
The women said they try to grow with the times by watching for new trends and bringing them to the show.
“We have to keep making it fresh,” Thein said.
When they started, much of the merchandise revolved around a country theme, but that’s given way to craftsman styles and repurposing vintage items. The show has always offered many types of jewelry. Soaps and lotions are also popular, along with American Girl items.
The company was usually a part-time job for them, they said, but it took more time at some times of the year. Their craft shows are juried, so keeping the vendor database up to date and working with a jurying committee kept them busy.
Vendors and customers have changed over the years. At first, many vendors treated their handcrafts more like a hobby and sold them to raise “a little Christmas money,” Volz said.
“Now, there are full-time crafters,” Thein said. “The ones that get really successful do it full-time.” Many are husband-wife teams.
Early customers were mostly women, and the majority are still women, but “more men come now than used to come,” Thein said. One of the more popular categories with women is fine art jewelry.
Male customers tend to look for things related to hunting or gardening, they said, and they also like stained glass items.
And lots of men show up just for the food.
After so many years, families have built traditions around the shows, they said, with multiple generations meeting at the show for food and shopping.
The shows bring the Volz and Thein generations together, too. Husbands, kids and now grandkids have all worked at the shows, along with many friends.
“These two ladies started that and put Clara City on the map in November,” Hubbard said, gesturing to her mother and Volz.