Saturday Market's season ends with few desperate shoppers

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - With less than two hours before Saturday Market closes for the year, Tracy Chandler purchases a catnip toy from Carla Kaminskis Spoiled Cat stall on Christmas Eve. Chandler, incidentally, was pretty sure her cats wouldnt care if she was a day late.The bean counters at MasterCard may think that the holiday shopping season was a winner, but Andre Shapiro is still waiting for a return to the days when he’d sell $1,000 worth of porcelain in the four hours before Christmas Eve.

For 23 years, Shapiro and wife Deborah have been selling their art at Portland’s Saturday Market. By Shapiro’s estimate, business was off about 10 percent this holiday season. A number of other vendors approached before the market closed for Christmas Eve echoed Shapiro’s estimate. Which is a contrast to the national data put out in a post-Christmas report from MasterCard SpendingPulse.

According to MasterCard, overall holiday sales were up 3.5 percent from last season’s spending, and holiday related items such as jewelry and electronics rose 2.3 percent. Economists say the day after Christmas has become one of the hottest shopping days of the year, but Saturday Market vendors weren’t around to reap the

benefits — the market is closed from Christmas Eve until March 1.

Shapiro says the hours leading up to Christmas Eve this year were vastly different before the recession, when last-minute shoppers would descend on the market and the couple would still be selling items two hours after the official market closing at 3:30 p.m.

“While we’re packing people would crowd over and want last-minute things,” Andre said.

Those days may be in the past, and if this year’s informal survey is any indication, the local crafts economy isn’t nearly back to pre-recession levels. But that doesn’t mean the level of desperation in last-minute shoppers decreased. Zina Noel, office coordinator for Saturday Market, said there had been a number of last-day shoppers who came to the information booth intent on finding a specific item from their favorite vendor only to find the vendor wasn’t working there on a Tuesday because he or she had a regular job.

“All week it’s been people coming up, and it had to be that one vendor who’s not here today,” Noel said. The next question, inevitably, was how they could possibly get what they wanted by tomorrow. One woman on Monday asked for contact information for a vendor who sold T-shirts decorated with a Volkswagen bus with a peace sign. Told the vendor lived in Hood River, the woman said she’d drive to Hood River, because the right gift is the right gift.

Sam Bascom, hoping to sell a few more of his tie-dyed items, held down the Northeast corner booth at Saturday Market, and said that last year he sold about $500 worth of tie-dyed shirts and sweatshirts in the last few shopping hours before Christmas. Nothing close to that happened this year, despite a mostly sunny afternoon.

According to MasterCard, some of the increase in national holiday sales was due to special promotions and price cuts. And there was a bit of that going on at Saturday Market last week, in a Saturday Market kind of way.

Fred Imhoff, who sells glass jewelry at the market, was strategizing for his last two hours of the season. “Try to trade as much stuff with other vendors as you can,” was Imhoff’s plan. Before the market closed for the year, Imhoff had traded some of his unsold jewelry for a massage tool he planned to give to his girlfriend.

Overall, Imhoff thought business was pretty good this holiday season, especially the last weekend before Christmas.

The shoppers? “They’re definitely more desperate,” Imhoff says. “They look more like they’re hunting than shopping.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sam Bascom of the Stellar Spectrum sold $500 of tie-dyed clothing in the last few hours of business last year, but said business this Christmas Eve wasnt as strong.

‘Throw money at you

Saturday Market doesn’t track vendors’ sales, so there’s no data showing whether overall revenue was up or down. One vendor selling jewelry starting at $200, but who asked to remain anonymous, said this season was considerably slower than last year. Maybe, she ventured, lower-priced items were doing better.

Dean Caldwell, who has been selling his wooden earring holders at the market for 27 years, said his holiday business this year was about half what it was last year.

“We’ve seen a lot of people walking by and a lot of people saying they’ll come back,” Caldwell said, who added that a number of other vendors have told him their business was down.

One booth that saw a steady stream of customers the day before Christmas was Carla and Rob Kaminsky’s long-running (15 years) catnip pillow operation.

“It’s called the Festival of the Last Minute for a reason,” Carla Kaminsky said between customers.

She said the couple’s business was up and thought better weather this year than last might have been responsible.

The Kaminskys benefit from some quick repeat business, Carla said. The day before, a woman came by who had bought a catnip pillow for her best friend’s cat. But before she could wrap and deliver it, her own cat sniffed out the pillow and started playing with it, so the woman was back for another gift.

Rob Kaminsky said he’d talked to a woman last week who had been purchasing the Kaminskys’ pillows for 12 years. Her cat had died and she came by to tell the couple the cat had been buried with the pillow.

“To us there is no greater honor,” he said.

With the clock ticking down toward closing, Hillsboro resident Tracy Chandler stopped by to purchase cat pillows for her cats Jacob and Jasmine. Which, if you think of it, doesn’t make a lot of sense, because cats, from all indications, don’t care whether they get their pillows on Christmas or not.

“Very busy schedule and a graveyard shift,” Chandler said by way of explaining her last-minute appearance. She’d already done all her shopping for family and friends but when she got off her factory shift this morning she thought it might be “festive and fun” to do a little Christmas Eve shopping.

Carla Kaminsky was quick to defend her last-minute customers and offer her explanation as to why a booth selling gifts for cats might be the busiest on the day before Christmas.

“It’s the feeling of giving, and what’s more true in the spirit of giving than to give to someone who cannot say thank you?” she said.

Susan and Jim Nachtrab said they’d sold fewer large glass panels and more smaller, less-expensive items this holiday season. The couple have been Saturday Market vendors for 30 years.

With 90 minutes to go before the market closed down for the year Jim Nachtrab said he was still waiting for that “glassy-eyed, middle-age man who will buy anything and throw money at you.” That sort of customer has come in occasionally on previous Christmas Eves, he said, but not so far this year.

More likely, Susan Nachtrab said, was his opposite. “We always get the, ‘Oh, it’s the last day, how low will you go?’” And in fact, the couple confesses that seeing as how this was the last market day of the year, they sometimes are willing to bargain a bit as the clock ticks down.

Not that they’ll be obvious about it. Susan Nachtrab said she might ask a hesitant customer if he is thinking about paying with cash or a credit card. If it’s the former, she will sometimes say, “Cash talks more than a card,” and wait to see if the customer is hoping for a drop in price.

Her husband says it all depends on the customer and the piece of stained glass he or she wants. He’ll never offer a bargain to a customer with a surly or condescending attitude. As for trading unsold artwork for items from other vendors at closing time, Susan Nachtrab says they won’t do much of that this year.

“We can only use so many earring holders and bars of soap,” she said.

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