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In East Chain: Shopping season begins

Sandy Malo of Fairmont displays a blanket to potential customers Saturday at the East Chain Holiday Market at the East Chain Activity Center. Malo was working at the Martin County Relay for Life booth.

East Chain may not seem like the first or ideal place to go shopping for the holidays, but that is just what hundreds of people did Saturday.

The third annual East Chain Holiday Market utilized the former East Chain School, now privately owned, to offer vendors a place to present their wares. About 35 did so.

Visitors checked out the crafts, trendy products and pop-up boutiques, and even enjoyed a catered lunch. With two gyms on site, parents could relax and look around while their children burned off some energy playing nearby.

Becki Peterson, Ashley Haake and Sarah Emmert are the event organizers, with Haake and Emmert also participating as vendors. The trio grabbed the reins of the Holiday Market after the former organizer found herself with too much to do this year.

The former school, known as the East Chain Activity Center, was saved in 2017 by three farmers — Bob Calkins, Dale Jensen and Russell Jensen — who did not want to see their former school building fall apart.

The idea to host a vendor market came when Cyndi Jensen, Dale’s wife, was approached by one of her friends, and asked if she had considered hosting such an event at the site. Not knowing how many vendors would be interested, Jensen put up a post on Facebook. Soon, 20 vendors and crafters had signed up.

The event gained ground in 2018.

“The gals and I who are running it this year said we have such great momentum; last year even in the middle of a snowstorm we had such fantastic turnout, so we were like, ‘We’ll take it over; we’ll head it up,'” Peterson said.

She believes the growing interest of vendors and shoppers relates to the changing retail environment in the area, with people looking for more options and outlets for holiday shopping and prepping.

“I think it’s a fun way for people to get out and about and get some of that shopping on their checklist done,” she said.

Peterson said previous vendors at the show were given priority for this year’s Holiday Market. Then organizers broadened the demographic to include, as examples, a man who makes beard oil, and a woman who has her own bee colony and sells honey and bath bombs. Peterson said part of the trick for organizers is thinking about gifts they would like to receive or that would be good gifts for people to buy friends and family.

Peterson sees the East Chain facility as a blessing, allowing plenty of space for vendors, concessions and an open gym for children to play.

“It makes it family-friendly for everybody to come, and not feel like you can’t bring your kids and don’t want them to touch anything,” she said. “It just becomes a full family activity.”

It’s also clearly about neighbors, friends and even surprises.

“We’re going into winter here and it just gets people out and about, and it’s so fun to connect with people and see what their holiday plans are and just touch base,” Peterson said. “You see your neighbors who you don’t really see out through the winter months in a fun space where you can just chitchat and catch up. And then too you see what other people’s passions are. I didn’t know one of my neighbor’s sold something and she was at the market and it was so fun to see her passions and hobbies and talents.”

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