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Common Ground Birmingham Art Fair--fair to so-so for many

This was last weekend in downtown Birmingham,Michigan right on the street--Old Woodward Avenue. This show is produced by the Ann Arbor Guild but you do not have to be a member to do it. It is on Zapp.


For the second year in a row, weather killed the attendance on Saturday--rain, until about 3pm. The crowds never showed up even though we still had over three hours to sell. This basically made it a one day show.


A couple of artists that I know made serious money that day. One, a batik painter sold a very expensive piece--the right person came along. The potter behind me sold steadily in spite of the rain. Me, I barely talked to 20 people, I had. $200 day, whoopie!


This is a long-running show, but it is newer now on the street. Originally, it was held in nearby Shain Park (Ironically, they hold their May show in the park, but not this one--go figure), that location was a killer show for most of us for many years.


Also, the Arts n Apples show (nearby Rochester) was the same weekend as Shain Park. Customers would visit both shows and we all made out. Now AA Rochester is a different weekend. For me, the street show has never been a winner, I make a slight paycheck but I cannot even gross 2K there. Others do.

Birmingham is a very wealthy north Detroit suburb. Lots of moola here. They dress very nice and walk around with expensive dogs. Once in a while they buy something. Overall, they are very traditional in their choices of art. They are not my crowd.. I need younger, hipper customers. Not many here.


The show is a typical Guild scrimmy layout. They give you a whopping two feet of common space to share with your rear neighbor. Inventory storage is tricky here. Side to side the booths are squeezed so tight that it is almost impossible to get to a side tarp and roll it up or down. They have plenty of room side to side but they squeeze us all in. The Guild used to be smarter years ago, but the present regime is not as kind. Hey, they do give you cold water. And, they have a tent with the usual goodies for artists. Lots of bananas. OK enough beating up on the Guild. They do an adequate job.


I saw more serious art bought in 3D than 2D. The glass and metal sculptor couple next to me cleaned up on Sunday. Lots of 1K pieces went out of their booth.

Sunday was a beautiful weather day with better crowds and sales were improved. I did almost $1500 then, if I had a similar Saturday this would be a good show. Sales started around noon and petered out by 4pm. Show was over at 5pm. This is one of those shows you just have to try once and see if it is your crowd.

Now, I will give a sort of Tequila Report--The wonders of downtown Pontiac after dark. I can hear the snickers, read on, you might learn something.


For the show I got to stay with good friends who are longtime residents of Pontiac. Since I got to stay free, I took them out for dinner and drinks Saturday. We hit Mitchell's Seafood for dinner in nearby Rochester Hills. Parker and Parker country. After dinner I got a bug up my ass. I said, "show me downtown Pontiac, I have never been there." I was buying drinks, and not driving, they gleefully obliged.


I had this preconception of Pontiac. I figured it was this big industrialized town with great buildings and lots of grit. I know it has fallen on hard times. And, I figured if I got disappointed with Pontiac, then they could take me to downtown Buick or Cadillac. Whatever.

Boy was I wrong. First off, there is no downtown Buick, I guess they sold it off to the Arabs and they made an amusement park out of it. Actually, downtown Pontiac is a very small, compact town. Not much larger than the village of Saugatuck where I live in the summer. There are lots of cool old buildings. It is very walkable, and there are a jillion bars and restaurants there. Granted, many are closed now, but many are on the verge of reopening.


Lots of new lofts and apartments where millenials are inhabiting. They do not have to get in their car. They can easily walk to and easily crawl back. This town is on a comeback. And, as my friends so astutely pointed out, it is at the epicenter of a whole bunch of highways that take you everywhere in a matter of minutes. You have Woodward, Telegraph road (alas, I could not find Dire Straits anywhere, it put me in dire straights) M-59 and I-75 all there. Pontiac has a future.


We did copious shots of Makers Mark at the Liberty Bar and the bill was cheap. Check out Pontiac--but do not go to the Buick Amusement Park.


Later Gators.l

Views: 400

Comment by Nels Johnson on September 20, 2016 at 1:22pm
Connie used to run the Arts,Eats and Beats there,
She should chime in with some memories.
Also, Connie do you have any leftover free admission tickets for the Buick Amusement Park. I am not paying one red cent to go there.
Comment by Connie Mettler on September 20, 2016 at 2:40pm

Ha, ha! I accept the challenge, Nels. 

1. There used to be BIG money to be made in Birmingham and the big guys traveled many miles to participate. Over the years we took mucho moola out of that town, selling our best work. There is still potential, but we're all tired of how it "used to be." Right? Just like a lot of places if you've got the right thing it just might rock for you. 

Not only was there rain on Saturday, like many Midwestern cities, you have to expect the crowds to dissipate at kick off time in the Big Ten. U. of Michigan is looking great this year and I know we're all clustered around our TVs to see UM's return to glory or ready to see the Michigan State Spartans teach "big brother" a lesson.

2. Pontiac!! The reason Arts, Beats & Eats got started almost 20 years ago was because of its terminal position at the heart of so many of those good highways and freeways but also because there were world class galleries (or at least one, Habitat Gallery - glass) in the downtown, plus some second rung galleries. Plus, as you said some excellent eateries with the young crowd moving in for the new clubs. Then there was the tech crash (2001) followed by the 2008-9 recession and Michigan was toast for a long time. Pontiac couldn't pay its bills so the show was lured to downtown Royal Oak that wasn't as gritty an area, where young people with children lived.

I hope you're right, Nels. Maybe Pontiac can make a comeback. Two weeks ago I was in downtown Detroit at the Jazz Festival and I see some hope for this wonderful city. In the 1950's Detroit had the highest per capita income in the nation. These days it is the poorest city in the nation. Yet ... we say nice things about Detroit, Pontiac and certainly Birmingham and plan for the good old days, and if you're lucky those many folks remaining in the area who have the good shoes will be walking into your booth again.

Thanks for the Tequila Report. Next time (if you're young enough) hit the Crofoot in downtown Pontiac.

Comment by Jim Parker on September 20, 2016 at 9:19pm
Our new favorite in Rochester Hills is the B-Spot, a Michael Simon place with a pickle bar and 30 beers on tap. Awesome burgers, fries and onion rings.
Common Ground was done for me again this year. I like the Guild folks, they run the show well. Didn't make a ton of money, but its like cal for us, so we sleep at home. Our friends, Randy and Jackie Kuntz stayed with us for both Art & Apples, and Bham. I did have my biggest sale of the month to an old work friend who stopped by at Art & Apples, and he committed to the sale on Friday during the Birmingham setup, so that made A&A a winner for me this year. Birmingham is hit or miss. Did have be good repeat customer, but overall, it was pokey.
Comment by Jim Parker on September 20, 2016 at 9:20pm
I hate auto correct.
Comment by Connie Mettler on September 20, 2016 at 10:42pm
But Jim, you got great promo, didn't you? I saw your images a couple of places in the PR for the show.

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