About more than sales: PA Wilds Conservation Shop Buyer’s Market builds connections
Offering an opportunity to connect with retailers from across the region and the shopping public, the creative makers of the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania made their goods and services available during the third annual PA Wilds Conservation Shop Buyer’s Market.
These juried artisans from across the Pennsylvania Wilds made themselves available to answer questions and sell their handcrafted goods first to interested retailers from the area on Saturday, March 2, in the Multi-Purpose Room of the Gemmell Student Complex at Clarion University, and then later that day to the general public.
This event hosted a number of first-time producers as well as those that had been to the event once or twice in previous years.
One such producer who was attending her third Buyer’s Market was Stacie Johnson-Leske, owner of Your Fired Pottery in Ridgway, located in the Elk Country landscape. She said the first event for her was the most effective, but explained there were “people already getting stuff” from her this year.
She says she always checks her schedule for this event and hopes it works out that she can attend.
Johnson-Leske is only able to attend the wholesale portion of the event in the morning, but still makes an effort to participate. She said she can always visit places like the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum in the Dark Skies landscape or PA Wilds Conservation Shop at Kinzua Bridge State Park located in the Allegheny National Forest and Surrounds to do business, but finds value in the exhibiting event.
“I can still go to them, but I prefer they come to me,” she said.
Johnson-Leske said her pottery is already being sold at various locations like Kinzua Bridge State Park, the Elk Country Visitor Center in Elk Country, Sinnemahoning State Park in the Dark Skies landscape and the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon in the Pine Creek Valley and The PA Grand Canyon landscape.
Johnson-Leske also mentioned it was nice to see the other members of the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania, and she pointed out how Kevin and Mary Abbott of Jabebo, LLC, who were attending the event from their shop in Bellefonte, along the I-80 Frontier, were already selling their products at national parks.
“That would be cool to get into,” Johnson-Leske said, hoping her connections may lead to other beneficial business relationships.
On the other hand, Chris King, owner of King Krunch located in Brookville at the edge of the I-80 Frontier landscape, was attending the Buyer’s Market for the first time.
She also made a couple connections early in the day, but was hoping for a better response to her products during the public portion of the market. She explained that her products were used for student fundraisers, and she had posted her attendance on Facebook, hoping to see a nice response from students at the event.
An artisan in review for the Wilds Cooperative – as were Kathy and David Dowling of K&D Hobby from the Pine Creek Valley and The PA Grand Canyon landscape – King was able to use this event as an introduction of her products not only to the public and retailers, but the PA Wilds organization as a whole. A producer of gourmet popcorn, seasoned pretzels and chocolates, she offered tastings of many of her delicacies.
Not alone in offering samples, visitors could also enjoy a taste of different flavored Kombucha from Erin Solveson’s Earth Below Kombucha, based out of Emporium, on the edge of the Elk Country and Dark Skies landscapes. Solveson talked about her growth since joining the Wilds Cooperative, and successes at past events, as did Tara Heckler of Blackberry and Sage Market from Punxsutawney, located along the I-80 Frontier. Heckler, who sells reusable, compostable, organic and eco-friendly products for the home and body, also noted the opportunity for business growth in the Punxsutawney area, with an event like the Buyer’s Market as a way to connect with other members of the Wilds Cooperative and leverage the group’s resources.
Also offering samples as well as displaying business growth was Karl Fisher, owner of Alabaster Coffee Roaster & Tea Co. of Williamsport in the I-80 Frontier landscape. Fisher, whose business has been represented at all three Buyer’s Markets, was offering samples of his Cold Brew coffee from aluminum cans. In a recent change, he said Alabaster has switched over to more recyclable materials such as glass and aluminum bottles and cans to be “more PA-Wilds-friendly.”
Fisher also talked about his business expansion into roasting coffee for Lycoming College in Williamsport, where they also have a Warrior Coffee Project set up for political science students to travel to a coffee farming community in the Dominican Republic for real-world learning opportunities. Since being established, the program has continued to grow to include other academic departments from the college and now has two fellows from the college that live in the Dominican Republic to help oversee the process, Fisher said.
Watch how Fisher’s work is impacting the lives of local school students through this video featuring the story of Tymir James.
Fisher said he’s also hoping to expand more to the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport because they have a good culinary program there as well.
Other than roasting coffee, Fisher explained they also deal with sales and repairs of equipment used in making coffee. He said he hopes connections made at the Buyer’s Market would pay off further down the line.
“More than this, I hope people bring me their coffee program,” Fisher said.
Ryan and Brandi Magaro of Rich Valley Apiary in Emporium also pointed out how they also reached out to make connections with other creative makers such as Kevin Abbott of Jabebo, LLC.
“It’s definitely a cool network,” Ryan said. “We do what we can to support it.”
The Magaros talked about how their business has grown. They said their products are sold both locally and further away, mentioning Ridgway and Grove City as two locations where their products — made from local honey and beeswax from their treatment-free bee hives — are available. Ryan explained it was events like the Buyer’s Market that help build their business but said it takes time and several events to really grow a business.
“You have to put some time in,” Ryan said.
Jack Northrop of Kane, in the Allegheny National Forest and Surrounds, made his way to the Buyer’s Market for the first time not knowing what to expect. Northrop hand turns wooden bowls, dishes and vases.
“You never know until you try it,” he said. Being his first event and not knowing what to expect, Northrop said he brought more of his smaller pieces.
In contrast, three-time Buyer’s Market attendee Robert Wilberding of Snow Shoe in the I-80 Frontier landscape, who hand carves and paints Pennsylvania fish and birds on or from reclaimed wood, brought a variety of his works, from smaller to larger pieces, to see what buyers might be interested in.
As a first-time participant at this year’s Buyer’s Market, Mickayla Poland of PA Made LLC in St. Marys, located in Elk Country, also said it was nice to get a feel for the event and learn to gauge what products would work best at the event in the future. She designs stickers, t-shirts and other merchandise inspired by the wildlife, culture and people of Elk County and offers unique wildlife paintings on framed glass windows.
Before the public portion of the event, Poland expressed interest in what students at Clarion University might say about her products since they may not be from Elk County.
“I’m curious what they have to say,” she said. “This is my first event not in Elk County, and a lot of (my products) are influenced by (the people and places in) Elk County.”
Poland said she made a few connections with buyers and fellow producer Amanda Lewis, owner of cold-porcelain wildflower, leaf and berry art company Petal from Clarion, located on the edge of the I-80 Frontier and Cook Forest and the Ancients. She said it was nice to see the product options available through the Wilds Cooperative at the Buyer’s Market.
Poland said she was excited not only to meet other buyers, but to meet the other creative makers. “Being my first Cooperative event, it’s nice to meet other creatives. Seeing it in person is so much better,” she said.
Selling survival and wilderness skills kits and other merchandise, as well as offering classes for survival and wilderness skills training and events, Art Dawes of PA Wilderness Skills out of Lock Haven, on the edge of the I-80 Frontier and Pine Creek Valley and The PA Grand Canyon, said he gave a couple cards out at his first Buyer’s Market this year, but that more people showed interest in his classes.
“I just use (the merchandise) to support the classes, so that’s good,” he said.
It’s not only the juried artisans who enjoy making connections with new producers at the Buyer’s Market but also those who come to buy.
Deb Adams of Gateway Lodge, located in the Cook Forest and the Ancients landscape, came as a retailer to buy products from the market. She said she likes the market and the opportunity to source local goods at the event.
“I met some new vendors and will probably have (their products) in the store,” she said. “The quality of the (product) packaging and effort they put into it is impressive.”
The Buyer’s Market was hosted by the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship and the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania (WCO) in partnership with the Clarion University Small Business Development Center. Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Pennsylvania Wilds, the WCO aims to help the region’s creative makers and businesses network, learn from each other and bring products to market that reflect the natural beauty, bounty and rural traditions of the Pennsylvania Wilds, while giving an economic boost to its communities. The WCO is a program of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, a regional nonprofit serving the counties of Warren, Forest, Elk, Potter, McKean, Tioga, Clinton, Lycoming, Clearfield, Jefferson, Cameron, Clarion and northern Centre. To learn more about the Wilds Cooperative and find a complete list of producers who participated in the 2019 Buyer’s Market, visit www.wildscopa.org/buyers-market.
Each year, the PA Wilds Center releases the PA Wilds Buyer’s Guide, a free digital download that features professional-level WCO Juried Artisans, Creative Service Providers and Trading Posts that carry locally-made products. This guide is designed to help connect regional producers and retailers, to establish meaningful business relationships and grow the region’s local economy. The 2019 Guide is now available at www.wildscopa.org/directory.
More From Our Blog