By C. Aileen Blaine
With the holiday season approaching and gift-shopping underway, Austintown Farmers’ Market offers a virtual Christmas market highlighting small businesses and shops in the Mahoning Valley.
Shannon Lehn, Austintown Farmers’ Market manager, started the market in 2014 after realizing there were no established farmers’ markets in the Austintown-Canfield area. Since then, the market expanded and now hosts vendors from around the Valley, selling a variety of homemade goods.
“I am very excited that we can allow our community to be a part of supporting local businesses and artisans while also staying safe,” Lehn said. “I would like to explore the opportunities for our community to be more involved with the market in an online format, but nothing beats seeing each other in person.”
Due to state guidelines and recommendations, the usual holiday basket raffle, photos with Santa and other community engagement events were canceled or moved to the market’s Facebook page and website. The Facebook page offers online activities, games and interactive posts to the community for chances to win prizes.
David Bisignani, owner of Buckeyes and More, sells nut rolls, chocolate-covered caramels, apricot cookies, buckeye candies and pies. He started the business 18 months ago when his previous job was eliminated in a downsize. Despite not being trained in business, his background in manufacturing, engineering, purchasing and healthcare help him with his business.
Bisignani said he attributes many of his sales to repeat customers who found him through various markets and vendor events, including Austintown Farmers’ Market.
“If it were not for the farmers’ markets, I would not have been able to sell much of anything this year, so I am grateful for the work the market manager does,” Bisignani said.
Kristin Bodendorfer, owner of DIVA Donations, sells handmade Christmas tree ornaments made from vintage wedding and prom dresses unable to be used by a clothing closet through the virtual market. She also runs a shop in North Lima called Devoted DIVAs Boutique, which carries other homemade crafts and accessories.
Bodendorfer said she wants to continue participating in the virtual market.
“I just love being able to go to an outdoor space and support local vendors, so this year, because it’s virtual, I still wanted to try and support,” she said.
Sarah Drabison, integrated language arts graduate of Youngstown State University, runs an Etsy shop called A Smidgen of Everything selling scrunchies, ear warmers, face masks and scrubbies. Through the virtual market, she also offers wooden signs, wine glasses and jewelry, all of which she designs and makes herself.
She learned about the virtual Austintown Farmers’ Market while attending its Halloween craft show. After finding the market’s website and signing up, she was able to upload photos and list the prices of her products.
“I’m hoping that more people will learn about A Smidgen of Everything,” Drabison said. “I’m hoping this market allows me to get my name out there and meet people in the community.”
Drabison said it’s important to support small businesses.
“Even if you don’t like anything from my shop,” Drabison said, “there’s amazing vendors out there.”
The Christmas Market event started in mid-November and will continue until Dec. 21, the last date for pickup. Those interested in viewing products or learning more can visit its website or follow the market’s social media pages.