Inside the Dairy Barn’s Holiday Bazaar, there are crowded tables covered in handmade goods and cleanly cut snowflakes that dangle from the ceiling. But one thing is conspicuously absent — the vendors.

While a number of other holiday markets halted their operations this year, the Dairy Barn knew its Holiday Bazaar would have to continue. Recognizing that 2020 has been especially financially challenging for artists, the organization began to reimagine the event, creating a Holiday Bazaar that adhered to COVID-19 guidelines and provided much-needed financial support to local artisans.

As staff members began to revise the plans for their yearly Holiday Bazaar, they were guided by Piper Toth, financial manager at the Dairy Barn. Toth largely drew upon previous business and vendor market experiences to shape the vision for the 2020 Bazaar. However, one of the initial challenges the team faced was keeping shoppers and vendors safe at the event.

“The first question we asked ourselves was, ‘How can you have a vendor event and keep the capacity down?’” Leah Magyary, executive director of the Dairy Barn, said. “And the first answer to that was: ‘You can't, if the vendors are there.’”

Thus, the 2020 Holiday Bazaar became a vendor-less event. The 38 vendors set up their booths, provided the Dairy Barn with inventory information and then left. This allowed the Dairy Barn to invite a limited number of shoppers to browse the Bazaar at a time. They made pre-registration a requirement to shop and only admitted 12 people an hour.

“We even have a system of how you shop,” Toth said. “We have everybody shopping clockwise. And, (when) shoppers come in, we assign them to where they're starting, and then they just can make the whole loop.”

Once shoppers completed the loop, Dairy Barn staff members served as cashiers at a central check-out location.

To ensure that artisans would still be able to make a profit with this limited capacity, the Dairy Barn extended the duration of the Holiday Bazaar. Rather than it being a one-weekend event like it was in the past, this year, the Bazaar was open from Dec. 5 through Dec. 20, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Magyary said business was “slow and steady, which is exactly the way that it was designed.” Most of the pre-registration time slots were filled.

“The fact that the community has shown up and shown their support and decided to shop local this year I think is incredible,” Magyary said.

The Athens community was not only instrumental in showing up at the Holiday Bazaar, but in preparing for it, too. The Athens County Foundation awarded the Dairy Barn a grant that paid for vendors’ booth fees and materials the Dairy Barn needed to set up the Bazaar. Community members also volunteered their time, working on inventory and making free activity bags that were distributed at the Bazaar.

Despite the new format for the 2020 Holiday Bazaar, most vendors responded positively and were thankful to have an opportunity to sell their works. Andi Stern, a mixed-media artist and first-time Holiday Bazaar vendor, recognized the challenges other artists have faced due to minimal art markets and shows this year.

“I know a lot of my friends live on doing shows all year,” Stern said. “And they've had their shows canceled.”

Talcon Quinn, a freelance lifestyle artist and two-time vendor at the Bazaar, has also felt financial strain because of the challenges of 2020. However, Quinn was grateful to have an opportunity to sell some art at the Holiday Bazaar.

“I'm really stoked at the Dairy Barn’s creativity of how to create a space to support artists and have safe shopping for the community,” Quinn said. “And then (I’m) extra thrilled at the Athens Foundation for volunteering to pay for the booth fee.”

The Dairy Barn sought to alleviate some of the artists’ financial woes by hosting the 2020 Holiday Bazaar, which most Dairy Barn leaders consider to be a successful endeavor. Based on the count with one weekend of the Bazaar left, the event had brought in at least $20,000 that will go directly to the participating vendors.

“During a year that has been very challenging for them, our local artists especially, the fact that we could collectively pull in $20,000 for them, makes me feel like, ‘OK, I don't care what the work was. That was worth it,’” Toth said.