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Economy blamed for thin turnout at luncheon faire
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There was a good-sized crowd at the perennially popular 43rd annual Holiday Luncheon and Crafts Faire sponsored by the Parent-Teacher Group of St. Anthony’s School over the weekend. But I’ve seen larger crowds. There were years when you had to fight the human traffic just to get to the booths bearing a plethora of truly unique creations.

To be sure, those one-of-a-kind and hard-to-ignore must-haves and must-buy gifts for loved ones that luncheon shoppers gushed over were still around. There were even some new faces and literally fresh booth features such as the artistic bonsai and other decorative plant arrangements offered by a nursery from Escalon, and the delicate ikebana-type miniature succulent arrangements on abalone and oyster shells that are the unique creations of avid Lathrop gardener Jeanette Bartenhager. She said she read in the Manteca Bulletin that the luncheon and faire organizers were looking for crafters to be part of the school fund-raiser and thought of trying to sell some of her living creations at this venture. But when she balked at the $100 fee to get the booth, her sister - whose name escapes me at the moment - wanted to see if she could sell some of her homemade jams and jellies made from fresh fruits in her garden and offered to share her space and split the fee.

The sisters attracted quite a number of interested shoppers. So did the other crafters that included talented veteran crafters Annie Borrelli and Doris Thissen who, like the majority of the booth vendors, are veterans of this fund-raising event that also doubles as a social gathering for many of the guests who count the luncheon as a special opportunity to have informal reunions with friends whose busy lives preclude more frequent get-togethers.

Thissen’s tole-painted gourds whose artistry and price are unbeatable, making them doubly attractive to shoppers. Annie Borrelli’s creations are of the sewn variety - hand-stitched and hand-embroidered quilts and afghans, aprons, table runners and a crocheted image of the Christ. The talented grandmother had much needed help to attend to the large number of customers at her booth from granddaughter Alyssa Telles who graduated from St. Anthony’s School in June and is now a freshman at East Union High School.

Old World Santa, aka Gene Marx, was another big attraction at the event especially for the young ones who were excited to be greeted by the smiling tall and white-bearded man at the door.

I don’t have any figures, but my eyeball assessment told me it was a thinner crowd that showed up this year. Several people I talked to, both visitors and vendors, echoed my personal observations. I’m sure the organizers are going to be crunching and comparing the numbers, in addition to performing some post-mortems in the days to come, if they haven’t started already.

Among those that they will for sure look into was the decision to change the long-running tradition of holding this event mid-week. It has always been held on Wednesdays, which meant the school had a captive audience - the people who are working in offices around the area. In previous years, I’ve seen groups of office workers walk to the school gym where the event was always held, or caravan in cars to go to lunch there. And just before or after lunch, before dashing back to work, they stopped at the booths inside the gym jumpstarting their holiday shopping.

The event may have also suffered from the competition Saturday, with several other places in and around Manteca holding their own annual holiday crafts faires.

DeAnne Nunes, the chairman of this year’s luncheon and crafts faire, said the Saturday schedule this year was just a “trial” run. Depending on what the numbers show, this popular event could go back to its Wednesday fixture.

But there was one big reason for the slim turnout which appeared to be the consensus from everybody - organizers, visitors and vendors alike: “It’s the economy.”
 To contact Rose Albano Risso, e-mail or call (209) 249-3536.