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story.lead_photo.caption Jennie Sanderson works on her eyes artwork Saturday in her booth during the third annual Small Business Saturday event in the Little Rock River Market. ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Thomas Metthe)

Despite the threat of stormy weather, more than 50 vendors gathered in downtown Little Rock for the third annual Small Business Saturday.

Artists, soap-makers, beekeepers, clothiers and sellers of strange objects were packed closely Saturday beneath the pavilions along the River Market District. Normally the purveyors line the street sides, but weather pushed the crowds to drier land, said Diana Long, director of River Market operations for the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"When you're in the outdoor vendor business, you are at the mercy of the weather," Long said. "But I'm still so happy to see all these people and vendors out here."

Some vendors, like beekeeper Justin Lowe of Rural Route Farms, had previously participated in the event. Lowe first set up his booth at Small Business Saturday in 2018 and, after a strong holiday harvest, decided to return. Lowe said he has about 500 hives -- each containing more than 1,000 bees -- spread out between Russellville and Clarksville.

"I like working outside," Lowe said. "And I feel like the bees are in trouble. So it's something for myself and something for nature."

Saturday's event also allowed shoppers to discover some eclectic and unique products, Long said, like the hand-carved wands, scrying mirrors and chalices that Marty Yokley, purveyor of goods at Wierdly's Unique and Unusual Objects, was selling.

Scrying mirrors, popularized by high fantasy fiction but widely known in the paranormal community for centuries, reportedly allow psychics or witches to see into the future or to look through other reflective surfaces. Yokley said he likes to repurpose antique goods for his oddities.

"I like found objects because it gives people something that is a part of the past," Yokley said. "It allows us to have a niche market for people who don't want commercially produced goods."

And the wands -- which Yokley carves by hand -- are all created from local willow, silver maple and pecan trees, he said.

Saturday was artist Jennie Sanderson's second year at the event. Sanderson's booth was covered in brightly colored portraits, Christmas ornaments, magnets and sketches. One object, however, was in almost every painting and sketch -- large, bright eyes.

Sanderson said that although she's always been interested in art, she began painting in earnest when her son, Greyson, was a toddler. One day when she was painting a portrait for a friend, Greyson told her the shirt should be "covered with eyes," Sanderson said. The eyes have been featured in her work ever since.

"Eyes are so expressive," Sanderson said. "They're the first thing I painted when I started painting."

The eyes -- some looking skyward in an eye roll, others large and bulbous -- are never the same, she said.

Kit and Drew Coons, two authors who have written nearly a dozen books and novels varying between fiction and nonfiction, said the small-business event allowed them to meet readers in their home state.

Drew Coons, who worked with a contractor for NASA during the 1970s, received 23 patents for his designs for the space shuttle and other space travel equipment. Coons said he uses his experiences with space travel to put real scientific theory into his novel, The Ambassadors.

Other books, he said, are heavily influenced by his and Kit's travel since they met in Africa in 1980. The Coonses are "humorous speakers specializing in strengthening relationships," according to their biography, and have traveled to 39 countries and dozens of states in the U.S.

"What we've learned is it's the stories that are important," Drew Coons said. "What people remember most is the stories."

Long said small businesses give back to the community culturally and economically -- 67% of every dollar spent at small businesses goes back to the community.

"Our neighborhoods would not be ours without businesses like these," she said. "It's important to the mix of a neighborhood that these businesses thrive. We need them to be successful."

Photo by Thomas Metthe
Justin Lowe owner of Rural Route Farms in Russellville hands out honey samples during the Small Business Saturday event.

Metro on 12/01/2019

Print Headline: Vendors' wares from odd to sweet at Little Rock small-business event

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