Nestled at the eastern edge of the Iron Range, the small town of Babbitt usually doesn’t qualify as a mecca for commerce or the arts. The exception is a special weekend each June, when the Friends of Babbitt Public Library hosts its annual Up North Craft & Vendor Extravaganza.
On Saturday, June 3, nearly two dozen handicraft vendors accepted an invite extended by The Friends to sell their wares in the Babbitt Municipal Gym. Hundreds of visitors from across the Arrowhead Region followed suit for festivities which raised money and visibility for the Babbitt Public Library.
The Friends asked vendors to pay a modest $10 for 8 feet of table space, keeping participation costs manageable for crafters of all types and sizes. However, they supplemented revenue with a raffle. Artisans donated more than 20 in-demand items for that purpose.
Refreshments provided another income stream. A local partner, Zup's Grocery, provided generous discounts on hot dogs, snacks and beverages. Last but not least, organizers integrated those most traditional of Friends of the Library fundraisers: used book and bake sales.
Without in-kind support, The Friends estimate that Babbitt’s craft extravaganza would have cost upwards of $1,000 to hold. However, goodwill for the library allowed the Friends to cut down on that price tag considerably. In addition to Zup’s discounts, the City of Babbitt permitted free use of the Municipal Gym, and the Babbitt Senior Center offered their adjoining space for lunch patron seating.
Event promotion cost nearly nothing. Area news outlets like the Babbitt Weekly News and Ely Echo provided coverage. Arrowhead Library System boosted the message across its wide service area, which extends from Grand Marais to International Falls. Coca-Cola even donated two extra-large banners to help advertise the event.
In all, The Friends committed just $500 towards project implementation (along with an almost incalculable number of volunteer hours). Purchases included a commercial-grade hotdog roller, an investment they wagered would pay for itself after just one or two special events.
Friends leader Kathleen Graber shared that revenue came out to $1,100 in total, making for a profit margin of $600 – a sizable sum for a town and library the size of Babbitt. "We expect this to be one of our most profitable fundraisers of the year,” eclipsing their annual book sales, Graber shared.
The Friends hope to establish the summer Up North Craft & Vendor Extravaganza a community staple, and that positive word of mouth will mean next year’s incarnation offers even more vendors, visitors, and visibility for Babbitt Public Library.