Diane Brandes passes Craft Show baton to Long Prairie Chamber of Commerce

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

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Thirty years is a good run. As the Long Prairie Arts & Crafts Show and Sell, held annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, celebrates its 30th anniversary, founder Diane Brandes looks back on the history of the event.

“My mother-in-law in South Dakota had a craft show the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We went there for every Thanksgiving so we went to her show.”

Diane enjoyed the show and sell concept and dreamed about having one in Long Prairie, her hometown. “I could do that,” she said, knowing she possessed the skills, talent and determination to organize such an event. “I checked with business people here and they said, ‘No,’ ‘No way to get that to work in Long Prairie.”

As Diane remembers, that attitude just added fuel to the fire. If they said it couldn’t be done, she would do it. She was no stranger to ambitious undertakings. She was the National Director of the Miss Teen Pageant for 15 years. She was also the founder and owner of a catering service known as Parties Plus. It also had a 15-year run and would have gone longer except a career move for her husband, Larry, took them out of town for a few years.  Even during those years, Diane continued the craft show.

She thought a pre-Christmas craft show was a good idea and decided to work on it herself. She didn’t wait until fall to start talking with people about the potential for a craft show. In the spring of 1992 she put on hundreds of miles recruiting crafters. She went to existing craft shows throughout the state, chatted with the creative vendors and passed out her business cards.  That kind of promotion continued every year for years to come.

Diane’s efforts paid off. Long Prairie’s first Arts & Crafts Show and Sell hosted 75 crafters. “That was in the old school. They filled the main gym, hallways and cafeteria.” From the first show onward, visitors and vendors all enjoyed free coffee. Since both she and her sister Faith Peterson had state food licenses and the catering experience, it was natural to offer food. “The vendors had to eat and so did many who came to the show.”

With the success of the first show Diane could have relaxed and anticipated successful subsequent shows. But that wasn’t her way to do things. She kept recruiting and the second year had 270 booths. “That was probably too many. They were in all the gyms, all the hallways, everywhere.” With the twists and turns in the hallways it was difficult for both vendors and customers to find their way around.   Some of the crowd probably didn’t even find all the crafters in the hallways since the main gym and cafeteria were the most popular areas.

By the seventh year there was a new high school and a new layout. The decision was made to use only the gym and commons area. Applicants to participate in the first show in the new Long Prairie High School maxed out the space and Diane started keeping a waiting list. But when the waiting list was more than 100, she knew that only a few would likely be able to replace any who cancelled and stopped keeping the list.

“We had a full house every single year!” There were a few years with bad weather but the only event to be cancelled was the 2020 show, due to the Covid pandemic. Diane said the school custodial staff has always been terrific for clearing the snow for the event and keeping things tidy on the inside as well. A big snowstorm in 2019 meant that some of the vendors couldn’t come. “We still had the show. The crowd still came, and we had a phenomenal crowd!” Some vendors told her that sales were even better that year, and many say Long Prairie is always the best show they do all year.

While Diane was the planner, her family always got involved in the setup, take down, hauling and sign posting. Her husband Larry and daughters, Angela, Hannah and Eva, helped out in ever increasing ways over the years. From helping in the kitchen, to traveling to promote the show, to doing the set up and marking out the booths, they learned it all.

Ten years ago, Diane’s brother Jon Larson who coached youth basketball, took on the kitchen duties as a fundraiser for his teams, with Faith’s help. The boys and their parents helped with the food and serving the customers. Jon moved up in the age groups with his boys and eventually that meant there were varsity players in the kitchen.

For the last thirteen years Diane has continued with double duty, working as the Executive Assistant for a large financial company. Three months ago, she added a new title, grandmother. With the girls grown and into their own careers and Larry serving as the vice president of a St. Paul printing company, it was time to pass the craft show duties on to someone else. Diane talked with Lu Brunkhorst at the Chamber of Commerce and with support from the chamber board, the decision was made for the chamber to take over. Diane agreed to work with them this year.

“We want the crafters to know this will continue,” Diane said. Consistency is key to offering a great shopping experience for the crowd and good sales opportunities for the vendors. With predictions of nationwide merchandise limitations and increasing transportation costs, people in central Minnesota can do what Diane’s family did for many years: “We did much of our Christmas shopping at the Long Prairie Arts & Crafts Show and Sell.”

This year the show will be November 27, 9 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Long Prairie-Grey Eagle High School, 510 9th St. NE in Long Prairie. Expect 150 vendors stocked to the brim with treasures, one-of-a-kind handmade items, and gifts galore.

Written by Nancy Leasman

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