Bargains, memories draw crowds to Fort Kent craft fair – Bangor Daily News

FORT KENT, Maine — Francis Labrie knows there is no such thing as a quick stop at the Greater Fort Kent Area Arts and Craft Fair.

Held annually the weekend after Thanksgiving, the event draws hundreds of holiday shoppers from around Maine and New Brunswick who come as much to socialize as they do to shop.

“I don’t take too many steps without seeing someone I know,” Labrie of Fort Kent said Saturday morning as a steady stream of people moved up and down the aisles in the University of Maine at Fort Kent fieldhouse. “This is where we come to see everyone.”

And, according her daugher-in-law Megan Labrie, “everyone” knows Francis Labrie.

“It seems everyone we see wants to stop and talk,” Megan Labrie said with a laugh. “And everyone else was my husband’s classmate, so I am calling this a class reunion, too.”

A resident of Gorham, Megan and Andre Labrie came north with their 9-year-old twins Cruise and Ella who were suitably impressed by the weekend craft fair.

“This is pretty awesome,” Cruise said, adding he had been most impressed by the variety of hand crafted wooden items on display, especially the carved snowman lamp.

His sister’s taste ran more the confectionary offerings.

“I liked the fudge,” she said simply, grinning from ear to ear.

Two aisles over, 4-year-old Preston Malmborg was carefully inspecting a variety of handmade soaps, making sure to give each a thorough sniff test.

“Oh, he’s already had some of that fudge,” his father, Kris Malmborg, said. “Actually, he went around twice to try some to make sure it was the good fudge.”

Moments later, Preston Malmborg offered up a bar of watermelon soap.

“This is my soap,” he informed his parents after they paid for it. “Put it in the bathroom but don’t put it high up.”

Soaps and fudge safely tucked away, Kris Malmborg said the craft fair is about far more than shopping.

“Look around,” he said. “You run into people here you don’t see the rest of the year.”

With impromptu class and family reunions taking place up and down each aisle, many of the hundreds who attended the craft fair consider the dollar price of admission money well spent.

Most of the vendors Saturday were saying business was brisk as shoppers looked over and snapped up items, including hand knitted sweaters, jewelry, pottery, furniture, holiday ornaments, candy, breads and candles.

“It’s the ‘Black Friday’ of northern Maine, one shopper joked.

“We were going to head home yesterday,” Megan Labrie said. “But the we saw the craft fair was today, so we decided to leave tomorrow instead.”

Not far away, Paula Pelletier from Madawaska was with her two daughters Samantha, 21, and Megan, 19. The trio had just bumped into a former teacher.

“I taught them pre-k when there were just this tall,” Rose Morin of Madawaska said, holding her hand out waist high, turning to look at Megan Pelletier. “And you are 19 now? Holy jumping crow.”

For Morin, catching up with her former students was all part of the craft fair experience.

“I’ve run into so many people today, I can’t tell you how many,” she said, waving to a small group strolling past. “I see them here, then won’t see them until I come to the fair again next year.”

At her corner display on the end of an aisle — the same spot she’s occupied every year for as long as she can remember — Lisa Bosse chatted with customers as she arranged her display of handmade Christmas ornaments.

“It’s just fun [and] I like seeing all the people,” she said as she wrapped up ornaments for a customer. “It gives me a reason to be crafty.”

As she looked over Bosse’s selection, Doris Metz of Fort Kent said she’s been attending the fair ever since it began in 1983.

“It’s really nostalgic coming back at this point,” she said. “Everything here is homemade and I know most of the people making it.”

Steady throngs of people moves slowly up and down the aisles all day Saturday, peeling off individually or in small groups to sample some food or inspect a pair of mittens or hats.

Conversation, shared memories and laughter moved with them from table to table with newcomers picking up where others left off.

“I knew I knew that laugh, when did you get here?”… “That’s your daughter? How old is she now?”… “We saw your mom last night and heard you were in town”… “When do you head back home? Do you have time to stop by?”

“Who would want to miss this?” Bosse said. “It’s a homecoming, great holiday and grand occasion all in one.”