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Pittsburgh's Handmade Arcade returns with pandemic precautions

Handmade Arcade’s popular holiday market is back – but with accommodations for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Pittsburgh region’s largest showcase for handmade goods marks a decade at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center with a return to that venue, where it regularly drew 10,000 shoppers before the pandemic required last year’s event to go virtual.

That actually went pretty well, said Handmade Arcade executive director Tricia Brancolini-Foley. The event’s website attracted 25,000 unique visitors in 2020 – more than twice the usual in-person number – and also, she said, earned high marks for its efforts to replicate the live experience.

Brancolini-Foley said record-keeping issues among vendors make it impossible to cite reliable sales figures for the virtual event. But in any case, she’s happy that, in a post-vaccine world, the Holiday Market can go back to putting bodies in front of tables laden with everything from jewelry to housewares, bath and body products, and original artwork. (There’s still a virtual Holiday Market, too, running Nov. 27–29).

This year’s vendors include 83 first-timers at the Holiday Market, she said. Products on offer include hand-forged knives, knitted dolls, wallets made from old baseball mitts, and jewelry fashioned from upcycled materials. The vast majority of vendors are from the tri-state region.

Other attractions include live maker demonstrations including mural-painting by Jayla Patton; blacksmithing by Protohaven; glass-blowing by Pittsburgh Glass Center; screen-printed wrapping paper by Artist Image Resources and CAPA High School students; and quilt-square sewing by Lindsay Hagerty.

But the event itself will look a little different. It will spread its usual-size array of vendors over two exhibition halls, instead of one, to allow distancing. To further reduce crowding, visitors will be required to register for free timed tickets. All visitors age 2 and older must wear face masks.

The hands-on crafting stations of years past are also a pandemic casualty. Instead, the market is offering free take-home craft kits in a variety of media, from markers and crayons from Artist & Craftsman Supply to macrame from Artsmiths and paint your own bath-bomb from Hip Modern Soap.

“We want everyone to have a great day and shop, and get back to supporting the creative economy, so we’re just trying to think of ways to make it as safe as possible, as flexible as possible,” said Brancolini-Foley.

The market will also resume its ticketed, Friday happy hour the night before the big in-person market. Another option for Sat., Dec. 4, is ticketed early bird shopping.

For more information, including registration, see the event’s web page, here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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