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Starving artisans nowhere to be found at bustling American Craft Council Fair


Shoppers snatched $500 coats from the racks of a Lebanon, Pa., designer as she and other merchants rejoiced over brisk sales at an annual craft fair in Baltimore.

"I'm in no recession," said designer Darlene Resnick. "The more expensive my pieces are, the better they sell. It's a paradox, it really is."

The American Craft Council Craft Fair is being held at the Baltimore Convention Center and Festival Hall through tomorrow. Now in its 16th year, the exhibit attracts artisans from across the country. About 31,000 shoppers are expected from various Middle Atlantic locations, said Joann Brown, director of the American Craft Enterprises, an ACC subsidiary.

Gary and Cynthia Labuda's shopping bags contained a $200 clay pot and a $280 glass vase. Still, the Arlington, Va., couple said they had been concerned about the recession, so they began saving money last year for this year's fair.

"People are definitely much more optimistic this year, despite what the papers say," said Marcie Singleton, a jewelry designer who believes this may be a sign that the economy is improving. "Wholesale buyers were worried last year and were much more conservative. This year they seem to have better expectations."

Ms. Brown said sales from wholesalers alone are expected to generate between $9 million and $11 million this year for the 575 artisans. Sales from the portion of the fair open to the public are expected to total $3 million to $4 million.

"Some people come in and buy two, three of them," Ms. Resnick said, pointing to bright blue, red, yellow and purple coats that she and her husband design. At last year's show she broke a 13-year record and expects to exceed that figure this year.

But Ms. Resnick said that not all of her customers are rich and that she does arrange layaways.

"I can't go to the Caribbean or anything," said Mark Shapiro, a Worthington, Mass., craftsman whose exhibit featured $900 ceramic jars. "But it's nice. I'm selling lots of pots."

Sarah Frederick, a Louisville, Ky., ceramic artist, attributed her sales to upscale patrons whose buying habits are not affected by the recession.

"There's just a certain element of affluent and upper-middle-class people that simply like to buy nice things," Ms. Frederick said.

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