We spent the last eleven days of August in Grand Marais, having signed on for a second full week, with discount, at Woodland Park Campground. We deviated from our normal 3-5 day stop for several reasons: First, we were growing a bit weary of the pace of our travels. We had told ourselves we would slow that down here in our second year of RVing, but with the exception of our extended stay in Maine we have not really done so. We also loved Grand Marais and the Upper Peninsula area, so why not stay a bit longer? Third, we had such an unexpectedly successful farmers market experience the first Thursday, that we committed to at least one more. Lastly, Labor Day weekend was approaching, we did not have any reservations for it, and getting them in a nice place would be tough, so we might as well stick it out here where we had an assured spot, at least through the holiday. With that much settled, we prepped for our second Grand Marais Thursday evening market.
Every farmers market or craft show is different, by which I mean the price range and types of things people want vary significantly. During our first event on the Key West Naval Air Station we figured out that the attendees wanted very low priced items with an ocean theme. There Rosemarie pulled out all of her excess jewelry and beading supplies that she had no interest in using and divided them into 50 cent and $1 packages for the heavy concentration of crafters to look through, revised the prices of her already made jewelry to concentrate on $5 items, and replaced most of the spiritual oriented earrings with nautical themed options. This resulted in significantly better sales during the remaining three events we attended there.
Here in Grand Marais the 50 cent and $1 bins went completely untouched, the sea themed items were, surprisingly, not very popular, the spiritual stuff sold reasonably well, anything with a semiprecious stone in it flew off the racks, and the price range that the attendees were willing to pay was noticeably higher. And though the paper bead stuff had not sold well at the first event, we sensed there was enough interest if we provided the correct design, particularly stuff from local brochures and maps. We prepared for the second show accordingly and sold more things, including one of the $20 pieces and six paper bead items. The first day of September having started the month off so well we rewarded ourselves with a fresh backed wild blueberry pie from our vendor neighbor, along with some heirloom tomatoes, spicy home made mustard, and some cookies as well.
Backing up a bit: Following the success of our first event in August, we had begun researching to see if there were any others we could attend on the U.P. We called the market managers in four towns, two of which turned us down flat because we were not locals and their charter was specifically set up to support local products. Fair enough. But the other two were willing to let us sell. Since those events were on the same day we chose the one in Marquette as it was closer to our planned westward route. Once we had decided to extend for at least a second week in Grand Marais, however, we faced the choice of skipping the Marquette event or making a day trip of it in Loki, and hope that our profits would cover the gas and $10 sellers fee. Giddy from the success of our two Grand Marais events, we chose the latter.
So Saturday morning had us up at the ungodly hour of 5 am and shortly thereafter on the road for the two hour drive. The manager, Myra, had gone out of her way to make room for us at the event, but needed us there an hour before the start to go over the procedures. It was actually a nice drive despite, or perhaps because of the hour. The roads were nearly deserted, and in our first 15 minutes on the road we spotted two fox kits playing beside the road. The picture we caught of them came out very blurry and dark, so you have to take our word for it.
Upon arrival Myra assigned us our spot, directed us to the tent and table storage rooms, and went over the requirement that we had to accept “market money” for those that wanted to use it. This is essentially a work around to allow buyers that only brought credit cards to purchase from sellers, like us, that are not set up to accept them. The buyer finds what they want, then goes to the central kiosk where they receive the market dollars in exchange for an electronic purchase from the manager’s merchant credit card machine. The sellers turn in the market money they receive to the manager at the end of the event, and once a month she sends them a check in that amount. Though not thrilled with having to wait for a check to catch up with us, we were happy to participate and willing to jump through this hoop in order to do so.
We had gone all out during the week leading up to the event, prepping additional items and constructing two more drift wood and wire mesh frames to display them. Not knowing the nature of this market, we brought the full range of items with us, with bags of extra stuff to replace what sold or offer options if we sensed a trend. It was a beautiful day on a holiday weekend with extra people in town for citywide activities such as the Marquette Marathon. All of this combined to make for a fantastic market, and our success vastly exceeded our expectations; we sold three times what we had at either Grand Marais event, and done so with sales all the way from the 50 cent bin to the $20 rack. We again rewarded ourselves by putting some of the profit into the pockets of other vendors, particularly the butcher (brats and thick cut bacon) and two of the organic farmers (basil and a medley of hot peppers) along with some delicious asparagus salsa.
We had a local craft beer at the Ore Dock Brewing Company, and took advantage of being in the big city to resupply groceries at Walmart and a few critical jewelry making supplies from Michaels. Giddy but tired, we made the two hour drive back to Grand Marais, contemplating our next step after the success of these first three days of September.
We had committed to staying in GM until after Labor Day, with a tentative departure on Tuesday, September 6th, and our next destination TBD. After three great market experiences, though, we thought why not make the Marquette area our next stop and participate in their market the next Saturday? And if we were going to do that, there was no reason to leave Grand Marais until after their next market Thursday evening.
So we stayed, pushing our first stop in the Upper Peninsula out to 19 days, the longest we have stayed in any spot since leaving Key West. There was no pressure on us at all to be anywhere; we really only had two more states (Wisconsin and Minnesota) on our must see list before heading back towards Florida. Nor did we have any pressure to sell well at this last Grand Marais market since we had already done nicely. Nonetheless, we did start to feel a bit of antsy, ready to get back on the road, and mildly concerned about how few people were left in the campground after labor day, which was probably a pretty good indicator of how many tourists and seasonal residents were still here to potentially show up at the Thursday market.
We need not have worried about the latter. Sure, it started a little slow and severely tapered off in the middle hour, but just like the last event at the end of the winter season in Key West, there seemed to be a bit of urgency for those departing Grand Marais at the end of this summer to get a keepsake or presents for friends and relatives. We had a surge of sales in the last half hour, and ended up doing just as well the previous Thursday.
We bought some homemade pickles and celebrated our last night in this great little town with a pizza at the recently opened Grand Marais Tavern. Apparently started by avid snow mobilers, but novice restauranteers, that found the lack of dining options in their preferred winter playground frustrating. They solved it by opening their own place that first week of September, pushing the number of options in town to two restaurants, one diner, and one food truck. They had a reasonably wide selection of craft beer on tap, and the pizza was unusual but excellent. Even Rosemarie, who is very particular and usually likes only properly prepared New York style slices enjoyed and praised this significantly thicker than NY style pie.
We packed up that evening for a late morning departure, having loved Grand Marais but ready to be back on our adventure. The U.P. has been great to us so far, and we hoped it would give us one more great weekend during our next stop.