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Culture Center gift shop did well with scaled back Vandalia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Amid all the unhappiness and grumbling about this year's split and scaled down Vandalia Gathering, at least one entity ended up better off than in years past.

The state Culture Center gift shop sold twice as much merchandise on the Saturday of this year's Vandalia than it did on Saturday last year.

Over the course of the whole weekend, the gift shop sold about $850 more in merchandise this year than it did last year, despite the fact that Vandalia ran only two days this year instead of three, and the shop was virtually empty on Sunday.

The shop sold $7,400 worth of merchandise this year, mostly books and t-shirts, compared to $6,550 last year.

Sandy Eads, who runs the gift shop, said she was surprised at how busy they were over the weekend.

"We were doing the best we could to represent the artisans that weren't here," Eads said. "All of our artisans make over 50 percent of the money when we sell their things. That's why it's nice that we did well."

The West Virginia artists and craft vendors who normally sell their work on the Capitol grounds were left out of this year's Vandalia Gathering, as it was scaled down and many of the features and events were moved to the weekend of the sesquicentennial.

One possible reason for the shop's success was visitors didn't have any other place to spend their money this year.

Steve Little came to Vandalia this year, like he does every year, from Gallipolis, Ohio. Little told the Gazette at the time that he was disappointed because he didn't realize that the arts and crafts vendors weren't going to be there.

Eads estimated that at least 70 percent of the vendors who normally come will be at the second iteration of Vandalia during the sesquicentennial celebration on Saturday, June 22.

Gary Shaffer, who has been making his living as a potter for more than 30 years, will not be at the sesquicentennial.

Shaffer has been coming to Vandalia for years, but he also goes to the Mountain State Arts and Craft Fair in Ripley on July 4 weekend each year.

Shaffer said that the closeness of the two events, just two weeks apart, and the late notice that he got about the changes to Vandalia made it too difficult to do both events.

Vendors were told in March that Vandalia would be split into two events, the traditional weekend plus the sesquicentennial.

But Shaffer said that was only after they'd been sent and returned the normal vendor application forms and that they were confused about which weekend they would be able to set up shop.

Although he was disappointed with the way this year's festival was handled, Shaffer hopes to be back at Vandalia next year. Still, he's worried that visitors and potential customers might not be.

"I've been doing craft fairs long enough to know that when you mess with success people will say, 'Well is it going to be a mess again this year, is it going to be right this year, or is it the same as last year?'" Shaffer said.

Shaffer also said that his sales at Vandalia have not been nearly as good as they used to be.

"We make some money, but not a lot," Shaffer said. "Over the last 10 years or so, it's gone downhill to the point to which we really go to see friends and other craftspeople."

Rumors abound that the state Division of Culture and History is trying to downsize or get rid of Vandalia. But Randall Reid-Smith, the commissioner of the Division of Culture and History, has publicly promised that Vandalia will be around as long as he is commissioner.

Proceeds from the Culture Center gift shop do not go to the Division of Culture and History. They go to the artists whose work is sold and to the Tamarack in Beckley, which promotes West Virginia arts, crafts and culture.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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