By Toni Rocha
Daily News Correspondent
ROCKTON-For 16 years, crafters and crafty shoppers have converged on Hononegah High School in late November at the Peppermint Swirl Craft Show. Sponsored by the Hononegah Booster Club, the popular show has become a holiday season staple along with lighted parades, memory trees and visits from Santa. From 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23, more than 120 booths will fill the Hononegah Air Dome, featuring many long-time favorite vendors plus more than 25 new crafters.
“We've been sold out of space for two months,” said show coordinator Ken Bach of The Wood Bachs in Rockton. “Every penny goes back to the Hononegah students through the Booster Club for extra-curricular sports and activities.”
Coordinator of the show for eight years, Bach added that the balanced mix of familiar and new is one of the reasons why Peppermint Swirl continues to draw healthy crowds, often nearly 2,000 in the one-day time span. The Booster Club's expanded menu that includes brats, pork chop sandwiches and cappuccino this year brings shoppers in and encourages them to stay longer. Another reason is that Hononegah's students are deeply committed to making the show successful.
“Hononegah's National Honor students help vendors bring in their products, and the soccer team helps them take what remains to their vehicles,” Bach explained. “The cheerleaders serve the food, delivering to the crafters so they don't have to leave their booths. Hononegah's girls' swim team handles admissions and the mailing list. This year, we mailed out more than 1,600 postcards announcing the show.”
And finally, Bach added, he monitors the quality of the crafts offered to ensure that visitors not only find an enticing variety but also can count on getting their money's worth, a vital selling point in today's economy.
“Ken makes sure no one brings in junk,” said doll maker Cookie Belken, Rockton. “He only allows hand-made items into the show.”
And for four-year show veteran Belken, whose appealing hand-sewn baby dolls sold out completely last year, that's important, and so is keeping prices reasonable for hard-working families searching for truly nice gifts on tight budgets.
“This year, my daughter's mother-in-law, Laurel Murane, is going to share the booth with me,” Belken added. “She makes quilts and Christmas tree skirts. She told me some of her beautiful tree skirts have more than $50 worth of material in them, but she knows she'll sell them for less than that so people can enjoy them, too.”
A doll lover her entire life, Belken said she started making different types of dolls until she found the pattern for the unique baby doll and really went into making them in a big way.
“There's nothing I like better than a new doll pattern, but they are getting hard to find,” Belken added. “So, too, are the arms and legs. But I buy all the fabric at local shops.”
It takes Belken about two days to craft one of her baby dolls if she keeps hard at it. But since Belken only does Peppermint Swirl, she said she has the entire year to build up her stock of dolls. This year, she will introduce a perky fabric cat and is looking at developing a toddler age doll that crawls on hands and knees.
“I price them at $25 or so for working moms and grandparents on fixed incomes,” Belken said. “You should see the children's eyes when they spy the dolls in my booth. At some craft shows, they want a fortune for dolls like mine. But I seldom come home with any.”
With just $2 admission, Peppermint Swirl Craft Show just might prove to be the best way to wrap up Christmas early, which leaves plenty of time to enjoy all the other events the Stateline Area has to offer.