40,000 craft fans can’t be wrong

By on August 17, 2011

What makes Lititz’s ‘Big Show’ so big?

By: LAURIE KNOWLES CALLANAN Record Express Correspondent

With more than 500 crafters and a crowd estimated at 40,000, there is one question you can’t help but ask when it comes to the annual Lititz Rotary Craft Show.

Why?

Why do some many people gather in Lititz on the second Saturday of August each year? How did a little craft show that started with a handful of stands back in 1979 and a modest crowd of craft-lovers get to be so big? Why is it pretty much impossible to park in Lititz on that one day of the year? How did the Rotary Craft Show get bigger than the Lititz Outdoor Art Show and the nation’s oldest Fourth of July festivities? What draws people to brave the crowds to buy old spoons transformed into decorative garden dragonflies, custom dog collars, little girls’ dresses and colorful hand-knit scarves?

On Craft Show day (last Saturday, Aug. 13, in case you missed it), we set out to get some answers, and it seemed that just about everybody had a theory.

Lititz Police Chief William Seace was standing in the middle of North Broad Street, where craft stands and shoppers stretched as far as the eye could see.

“I think it’s the hometown appeal of Lititz,” he said. “People just love the charm of an old-fashioned town like this. Plus, it all goes to a good cause.”

That good cause is fundraising for the local Rotarians, and this show nets between $50,000 and $100,000 each year. The money goes right back into the community, with generous donations to fire companies, charities, the recCenter, Boy Scouts, Little League, Girl Scouts, ambulances, police departments and many more.

The proceeds come from the fees crafters pay to set up their stands. When Seace sees the crowds, he realizes how much that crowd benefits Lititz.

Over time, it became known as the “Big One,” and it may be the largest of its kind in the East. No one is more surprised than Robert “Chip” Martin, who at 92 is one of the show’s original organizers.

Martin still helps out and still marvels at the size of the event. He and the first organizers never imagined it would grow to the massive size that it has. People come from all over the East Coast, as well as close by in Lititz, Manheim and Ephrata.

He recalled that the craft show was originally conceived by the late Bill Bell, who owned the former Lititz Bookstore. The first Lititz Craft Show was named in memory of Larry Ruggiano, who had been president of the Rotary Club, and passed away after a battle with cancer.

“No one knew how big it would get,” said Martin. “I still can’t quite believe it.”

Another theory is that the Lititz Rotary Craft Show pulls the community together.

“I think it’s so nice to see everyone out here at the show,” said Janet Steffy, who was helping at the Golden Needles stand sponsored by Lititz Church of the Brethren.

The Golden Needles seamstresses and knitters create stuffed toys, aprons, bags, Christmas decorations and more for the big event. Proceeds from selling these handmade items have helped the church’s building fund, raising some $50,000 toward that project. They also feel good about helping the community.

It’s just another example of how Lititz comes together for worthy causes, like the Lititz recCenter, Lititz Welcome Center and Lititz Public Library.

Jennifer Lantz, a local resident, likes helping her community, so she makes a point of stopping by the craft show each year. She was impressed with Diane and Tom Chapman’s handmade scarves.

“I like the variety,” said Lantz, who had walked to the show. “There really is something for everybody.”

Well, mostly women.

It was pretty obvious that women outnumbered men by at least 80 to 20 percent. Many of the women traveled in small groups. Sisters, mothers and daughters, good friends, neighbors, cousins, co-workers. The few men who braved the crowd seemed content to find a shady spot in the park to wait, or to carry bags and watch the kids.

“There are definitely more women here than men,” observed Tom Chapman. The Bucks County resident said he came to the show to help his wife set up her stand and tend it when she went to get food or refreshments.

And there were plenty of refreshments, ranging from hot dogs and grilled chicken to barbecue, fresh lemonade and ice cream.

Joe Madilia of Mount Joy was one of the few men who came quite willingly to the show. He was accompanied by a lovely lady, his white English Bulldog, Emma.

It seems that Emma agreed that there was something for everyone. She was taken with the Dog Gone Fancy stand set up near the square.

Sporting a blue calico collar made by Dog Gone owner Amanda Byler of Schaefferstown, Emma enjoyed a refreshing bottle of water and being spokesmodel for the stand. She seemed less enthusiastic about the other part of the business — Cat Gone Cool, with its custom kitty collars and cat toys.

“This is my fifth year at the Lititz Craft Show,” Byler said. “I know the crowd is going to be good.”

“I think it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing,” added Kami Deppen of Manheim, who set up her Kamilot children’s clothing stand with her friend Laura Zimmerman of Lititz.

The two moms began making adorable appliquéd clothing for their own brood of six children between them, and decided to start their business to meet demand. The colorful fabrics and fun designs were a big hit Saturday.

“Crafters know they will have a good crowd to buy,” said Deppen about the show, “and people know they will find a great selection of fun and affordable crafts.”

And while weather is often a key component to any event’s success, crafters and craft-lovers held strong despite a few rain showers later in the day. Ducking inside shops and restaurants provided respite from the quick storms. There was even a brief rainbow.

As the show was winding down around 4 p.m., a steady line of cars could be seen heading in all directions. By evening, the clean-up crews were hard at work, returning Lititz to its usual tranquillity by Sunday morning.

When it was all said and done, it was hard to know if all the “Why’s” had been answered. Why is the Lititz Rotary Craft Show so popular? Perhaps it just is. More CRAFT SHOW, page A14

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