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By Nora Heston Tarte
Business Journal Writer
MODESTO — Stephanie Foster Burtch started out as a jewelry maker, an artist selling her wares through an Etsy shop online called Wow Era Jewel. But her online presence left her longing for customer interaction; watching buyers experience the artistry firsthand, and engaging with them in a more intimate environment.
“I missed the experience of people trying the jewelry on,” Burtch said.
Assuming other artists must feel the same way, Burtch started Craft Grab, a small, monthly craft fair aimed at bringing local artists together with the community.
“Craftspeople … weren’t able to tap into the local market because we’re so inundated with online shopping,” Burtch said. “This was more of a localized effort to get the products out [in public].”
First run out of Preservation Coffee & Tea in Modesto, Craft Grab was a craft fair on a small scale, just three to four vendors to start. It served its purpose of getting vendors back to a more tactile space, and gave consumers a more meaningful shopping experience.
“People were enjoying the experience of getting to know local art,” Burtch said.
“[Burtch is] really good at bringing the community together to invest in each other,” said Saleisha Constantine, owner of Rad Vintager and a frequent participating vendor at Craft Grab. Through her true vintage shop, she sells clothing and jewelry ranging from antique to 1970s only. “It’s a lot of women empowerment, too, because she does [schedule] a lot of female-owned businesses.”
The creative momentum kept picking up, and Burtch moved the fair to Tri-Chromatic Gallery, an art gallery on J Street, which could accommodate the evening hours she wanted. That’s where the fair exists today, open the first Friday of each month from 5-10 p.m. It’s there that the community gathers to shop wares from five to six local artists — jewelers, vintage sellers, screen printers, skincare producers, wood workers and more — who rotate month to month.
Most of the participating makers come from Modesto, Turlock and surrounding cities.
“I like to work with people who are designing and creating or hand-forging their own products,” Burtch said.
After the birth of her first child in 2016, Burtch took a step back from selling her items. Without selling her own designs, Craft Grab doesn’t make Burtch any profit.
“It’s not really a business. I don’t make any money from it,” she said. Instead, Burtch takes her 25-dollar vendor fee and puts 100 percent of it back into marketing Craft Grab.
Burtch’s ability to curate a good show has led to a part-time job that does pay, managing Modesto’s First Friday Street Faire.
“It takes place same night as Craft Grab so we like to think of them as sister events,” she said.
Her new gig is essentially curating on a bigger scale, a skill her vendors say she has mastered.
“I’m never disappointed,” Constantine said of selling at the event. It’s smaller than most craft fairs she participates in, but regardless, Constantine routinely sells about 50 percent of the inventory she brings. “I feel like Stephanie curates really well … For every Craft Grab that she does, she picks vendors who complement each other.”
“I really enjoy the intimacy of Craft Grab … it’s not as rushed as other craft fairs,” said Candace Jenkins, owner of Lovely Woods Press, where she sells hand-carved stamps as well as stamped goods, including paper, cloth and wood.
Jenkins brings her goods down to Craft Grab about two to three times each year and sells 20 through 40 items every visit.
“I would say that that’s a pretty good turnout for the amount of time you’re there,” Jenkins said.
“She … does really great outreach,” Constantine added. Not only is Burtch known for helping her vendors set up, according to Constantine, she always schedules well ahead of time and even invites “mama-preneurs” to bring their kids along, who she then helps entertain. “She’s just really hands-on.”
In the future, Burtch would like to create a co-op, a more permanent place for creatives to connect and share their works with the community. But that dream is still far off.
“I’ve been really focused on just creating a scene for local makers … encouraging and inspiring people who want to create things with their hands and their imagination,” she said. “It’s important to help cultivate a scene that’s conducive to creatives before you throw a brick and mortar at it.”
As for her own creative work, she’s not done yet.
“I’m hoping to return to my metal shop bench someday,” she said.
Note: a previous version of this article erroneously reported a 25-percent vendor fee, when in fact the vendor fee is only $25. We apologize for the error.