'Tis the season already

Holly Days draws merry shoppers

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Joanne Thompson, owner of Joanne's Raw Goat Milk Soap, speaks with shoppers at the 33rd annual Holly Days Festival of Gifts at Camden Intermediate School, Saturday.


By William F. West
Staff Writer

Monday, November 5, 2018

CAMDEN — The Christmas shopping season in the Albemarle officially got underway Saturday at the 33rd annual Holly Days Festival of Gifts.

Shopper turnout for the opening day of the festival was down a little from last year’s record-setting first-day attendance. Even so, the festival’s 70 vendors seemed to be doing a brisk business inside Camden Intermediate School ‘s gym Saturday afternoon.

Helen Czernik, who along with husband Larry operate a toy store in Kill Devil Hills, was selling Melissa & Doug Toys, which help children develop learning skills, and Laser Pegs, which are building blocks compatible with Legos. Czernik said the Laser Pegs are usually her best-selling items at Holly Days, but the wooden Melissa & Doug Toys also seemed to be popular because shoppers “always go back to the basics.”

Czernik said she and her husband have operated a vendor booth at Holly Days for about seven years.

"The people are great. The people I work with are great — and I always have a great day of sales," she said.

The Holly Days Festival of Gifts is sponsored annually by the Camden Woman’s Club as a fundraiser for the club’s numerous projects in the Camden schools and community.

Jack Ireland, of Shiloh, has been a vendor at Holly Days festivals for even longer than the Czerniks: this past weekend marked his 19th year.

Ireland, who used to teach geology in the New York university system, long enjoyed framing photographs as a hobby. He’s since turned his hobby into an art form that people are willing to pay money for.

"When they look and they like it, it makes me feel good," he said of his custom frames. “But when they buy something, of course I feel better."

Another vendor whose artwork was receiving attention Saturday was Alan Glassman, an amateur photographer who lives in Virginia Beach.

"I've been doing this for about 50 years," Glassman said, adding that photography provides him a creative outlet from his job as a computer programmer.

"It gets me away from the zeroes and ones," he said.

Glassman said he has been a regular vendor at Holly Days for three or four years.

"This show has treated me very well in the past," he said. “I've done reasonably well here. I just want to keep paying back customers that keep coming to buy my stuff."

Among Saturday’s Holly Day festival shoppers were Richard Bovie and wife, Patricia, of Elizabeth City. The couple, who moved from New Jersey a couple of years ago after retiring, said last year’s Holly Days was the first they had ever attended.

"This was the first time we came out to a craft show of this magnitude," Richard said. "It was a welcoming experience. We met a lot of people here that were extremely nice and courteous."

The couple purchased goat soap at last year’s festival and purchased another supply on Saturday. Asked what else he and his wife were looking for, Richard said, "As we see it, we'll know."

Patricia said she likes the Holly Days event because of its wide variety of affordably-priced items.

"It's also just a great way to spend an afternoon," she said.

Lorie Gordon, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, said she’s been attending Holly Days the past four or five years. She started coming, she said, after her mother, Linda Kemp, first heard about the festival from local media in Virginia.

Gordon said one of her most memorable Holly Day purchases was a monogrammed wooden letter “G” with deer antlers for her front door. She said she purchased both a crocheted pillow and a wooden image of a reindeer on Saturday.

"And we got fudge," Kemp said.

"That's for the ride home," Gordon added.

Charlotte Underwood, a former tourism director for Elizabeth City, showed off the Camden County High School Bruins blanket she had just purchased.

"Isn't that great, to throw on you at the football game? Everybody needs one," Underwood said.

Underwood, who lives in Camden, said her son, David Clark, once played football for the Camden High School Bruins.

A longtime attendee, Underwood said Holly Days seems to continue to grow. Asked why, she said, "They keep up with the times" and “Everything you're looking for is here."

Also in attendance on Saturday was South Mills resident Lynn Needham, one of the organizers of the first Holly Days festival more than three decades ago.

"It's a great group of women that run it — and I'm really happy that we were able to start something that's this popular," Needham said.

Asked what she was eyeing as a shopper, she said, "I like a lot of the woodwork and some of the bird feeders over there," pointing to one of the booths.

As for what makes a successful Holly Days shopping experience, Needham said the strategy is to browse first then buy.

"I think you probably need to browse around and then go back and really look — or even come back on the second day," she said.

Beth Upton, chairwoman of the Holly Days Festival Gifts, said 1,050 people turned out on Saturday for the first day of the festival. That’s down from 2017, but Upton noted that last year’s first-day attendance was a record for the festival.

Upton said several athletic events taking place in Camden on Saturday might have been a factor in the lower attendance figure. Sunday’s attendance figure was not immediately available.