By Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
On a rainy autumn day on Grand Island, people look either to cocoon inside or to find an indoor activity for themselves and their families.
The first vendor fair at Simply Boba, 2600 Grand Island Blvd., on Oct. 8 attracted eight vendors and craftspeople, as well as families, looking to start their Christmas shopping with locally made products.
“Quite a few people came out, and it was a good day,” said Vinh Nyugen. “I was kind of afraid people would stay home and sulk (after the Bills lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, England)! But they didn’t. They still got out. The vendors had a great time. Some of them did well.”
Nugyen described the vendor fair as a fun activity for both adults and children. “We gave our daughters money and said we need Christmas presents for family members. We involved our kids. They got to walk around the tables and hand vendors some of the money. They got to pick out an ornament or some handcrafted item, like candles. Just to know that they picked it out for family members was good. It was a good family event.”
The vendors sold a variety of goods, including handcrafted candles, Buffalo Bills themed merchandise, jewelry, and more.
Nguyen described a few of the vendors’ products. One of those vendors was Sue from Bake Me Crazy. “I sell her cookies out of the shop on my counter. She came, and she sold her cookies. Then we had Mary, who did jewelry. She did some permanent jewelry. It was an interesting process to watch. You would get a piece of jewelry, and she would tackweld it. I think she did a ring for the first time while she was here. She did a bunch of bracelets. It’s just a piece of jewelry that, once it’s tack welded, it’s on. It’s not coming off. But you can take scissors and cut it off.”
“Then we had Natalie. She has a business called Natalie’s Nailpalooza. This was a lot of fun for mothers and daughters. She has these manicure sets, fingernails in all sorts of different patterns. They’re so easy. Kids can do them. You put them on your fingernails, and they stick. They have all sorts of fall patterns, winter patterns, Christmas, whatever you could think of. You could have a whole manicure. They last for a while.
“My daughter had fall leaf ones that were beautiful fall colors. They’re easy to do. That’s a fun event. Moms were bringing their daughters along. This is something you could take home and do with your kids at night. That was cool.”
One of the goals of the event was to create a sense of community, Nguyen said. “One of the core visions for Grand Island for this business is that this where we could have community. Community has always been a big part of the business model here, which is a place where people come to build community. Forget all the bitterness and fighting for a little time. Just have a place where we can come together and support one another. That’s when I started thinking, ‘how do I do that? How do I support local businesses and support one another? That’s how the event came to be. I don’t take anything from any of the vendors. Typically, there’s some sort of fee that you pay to get a slot at a fair. But we just opened the facility for vendors who want to come and share about their business, who they are, and then we try to highlight them.
“If it’s something unique that we could highlight and feature for people, that I could market or put on my social media or share with my customers as they come into the store. Just say, ‘Hey, come check these vendors out or check Alice’s paintings or Rob’s woodworking, Natalie’s nails, whoever it is.’ I want to be able to say, ‘Hey, check these unique pieces out.’ That allows the community to support one another.’
Another goal of the event, Nguyen said, was to offer marketing support to craftspeople, who may find marketing and sales difficult. “Everybody works hard at what they do. Sometimes, it’s hard to generate (sales) on your own because, when you’re creating a product and making a product, and then you’ve got to do the marketing and sales and how do I get people to buy my product? How do I get my name out there?
Nguyen’s answer is that he will help with the sales and marketing. “We work with other local businesses. Just say, ‘Hey, let’s support one another and help one another.’ We kind of did the sales and marketing for them at the event. People could just come. I would push it out of my social media with my customers, and they would come in and just support them.”
The next event that Nguyen has planned for Simply Boba is a Twelve Days of Christmas event. “Twelve Days of Christmas will be one vendor a day for 12 days. They’re going to be selling whatever product they have that’s geared for Christmas. If you’re looking for a nice Christmas gift or you want your house to smell like Christmas, we have a different vendor every day for 12 days, and it’s the 12 days of Christmas event. We’ll probably do another vendor fair in the spring, as the seasons change, so we’ll do a springtime vendor fair.”
Even though Nguyen doesn’t charge vendors a fee to participate, he said the fairs benefit his business, as well. “Of course, the vendor fairs help us, too,” Nguyen said. “You can buy food or a beverage. Our teas are hand crafted. So, everything tends to take a little bit longer than your average bubble tea. We don’t have shaker machines. The tea is made right in front of you. Teas are brewed fresh every day. Our sandwiches are all handcrafted sandwiches that are cooked to order. Everything is a 10- to 12-minute process. A vendor fair is good. You can put your order in and walk around, come back and grab your food, take a break, eat, and continue shopping, relax, and just enjoy the day.
“We remember your names. We remember your orders. It’s been fun for me because I’ve gotten to know people in the community. I greet people by name who have come in regularly. They share about their lives. We share about our weeks. That’s what we need. That’s the community vision I’ve always had.”