North Bay holiday arts and craft fairs offer one-of-a-kind gifts

During the first official weekend of the holiday shopping season, millions of Americans will flock to stores for doorbuster deals or flit around the vast cybermall in search of fabulous finds.

But it could be an exercise in faith and luck. Just as vaccines have made people feel less timid about venturing into stores, there are new worries. Kinks in the supply chain, shipping container shortages, price inflation and a lack of labor to man warehouses and registers mean it will be a lot harder to fulfill holiday wishes this year.

But one niche of the market that is back and thriving after a year on hiatus is craft fairs. The COVID-19 pandemic has given crafters and makers more time to build up inventory and experiment with new ideas. People hungry for human interaction, a tactile shopping experience and a chance to buy local at a time when people are still hurting economically from the pandemic are surging to handmade markets. Every weekend until Christmas there is a craft, artist or makers fair somewhere along the North Coast offering handmade, one-of-a-kind gifts.

One of the biggest fairs is the Handmade Holiday Crafts Fair. With more than 90 vendors spread throughout the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa on the first weekend in December, it draws serious shoppers who love the emporium atmosphere and huge selection. But many come not just to browse but determined to land a piece from a special artist or maker.

“We actually have to do a map at the gate when people come in, to help them identify which vendors are in which room, so they can go straight to their favorites,” said Al Pritchard, a recreation coordinator for the city of Santa Rosa, which has put on the event for 47 Christmases.

Janet Ciel, manager of the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market, said the city has expanded the market not only by the number of vendors but the number of days. Typically, the market rules allow for only six crafts vendors, but as the growing season winds down, more artisans are welcomed in. Instead of shutting down after Thanksgiving, it will remain open on Saturdays through Dec. 18 for holiday shoppers who like to buy gifts, as well as their food, from the source.

“By the time December happens, if the weather holds, we’ll probably have 35 craft vendors, plus the Farmers’ Market,” she said.

The market decided to stay open an extra three weeks last year during the pandemic, providing a safer outdoor place to shop. It went so well that they decided to do it again this year.

Among the vendors is Jennifer Utsch, a former Utah sheriff’s deputy and firefighter who now makes “signs of love” out of powder-coated sheet metal, each with individual messages in English and other languages. Her signs can be strung together to create prayer flags or vertical mobiles, each with bells. Utsch also brings a limited amount of her tin can lamps, memo boards, picture frames and flower boards.

A lot of craft-fair followers look for practical gifts and functional art for home and garden. They are drawn to artisans like Laura Sandoval, who studied floral design at Santa Rosa Junior College and makes dried flower wreaths that she sells at the Healdsburg and other farmers markets. She gleans many of her materials from her own half acre of property. Keeping it completely local, she makes her wreath bases mostly from manzanita wood harvested from the land of another Healdsburg resident, who offered his trees after her previous sources were burned in the Kincade fire.

“I think people are craving more fundamental connections to have things that are handmade and meeting the person who made them,” said Jacqueline Formanek, a longtime potter from Bodega Bay who was set up at the West County Craft Faire at the Sebastopol Grange on Sunday.

“I love working farmers markets. You get your beautiful organic food; you meet the farmer. And ... I made these bowls that you can eat your salad out of,” she added.

As she talked, another woman spotted a tiny, sage-green dish. Formanek rolls doilies, lace, plants, ginkgo leaves, crabgrass and other objects into slabs of wet clay to leave delicate impressions in the decorative pieces where one might place a ring or a cherished pair of earrings at the end of the day.

“It’s just so beautiful,” said Joen Madonna, who didn’t hesitate a minute before handing over $20 for the piece and tucking it away in her bag.

“I’m into the arts, and I support artists and crafts” said Madonna, who runs the arts organization Artspan in San Francisco.

“I only ever buy from local people. I don’t buy mass-made stuff. I just know the people who do this for a living have put in so much energy to make something. That’s where I’m going to put my money.”

Upcoming craft and maker fairs

Healdsburg Holiday Arts & Crafts Market: The Healdsburg Farmers’ Market opens up to additional vendors just for the holiday season. 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Dec. 18. West Plaza parking lot, Matheson Street at Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg.

Holiday Arts & Crafts Faire: This is the 42nd year for this Rohnert Park tradition right after Thanksgiving. It includes a Little Elves Workshop, with trained staff available to help kids write letters to Santa and make their own crafts and decorations to take home while parents shop. Children under 5 must be supervised. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 26 and 27, Rohnert Park Community Center, 5401 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Free admission. 707-588-3456 or

Holiday Gift & Craft Fair: The Juncture Taproom & Lounge plays host to this sale, held as a fundraiser for the Small Business Hardship Fund. Look for baked goods, gifts, ornaments, jewelry, beauty items, stationery, wreaths and more. 2 - 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27. Free. 4357 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa.

Monte Rio Holiday Craft Faire: Local craft vendors will sell jewelry, home decor, holiday decorations, candles and art in many mediums. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28. Monte Rio Community Center, 20488 Highway 116, Monte Rio.

10th annual Winter Art Market: Fifty artists working in all mediums including ceramics, fiber art, print, jewelry and sculpture assemble to sell their work, at prices starting at $5. Everything is handmade locally. Free demonstrations. Benefits community arts programs. Sonoma Community Center. 4:30 - 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, and 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3. Free admission. 76 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Call 707-938-4626 or email for more information.

Handmade Holiday Crafts Fair: One of the oldest local and most popular holiday crafts fairs features more than 100 vendors at Finley Community Center. Free parking and free trolley rides to the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens Open House. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 4-5. $3 admission, good for both days. 12 and under free. Finley Community Center, 2060 W. College Ave., Santa Rosa. 707-543-3737,

Cogir of Sonoma Holiday Craft Fair: This senior living community welcomes visitors to come browse and shop for locally made crafts from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 4. Proof of vaccine or negative COVID-19 test within the last 72 hours required for admission. 800 Oregon St., Sonoma. 707-996-7101.

Christmas Craft Fair at Faith Lutheran Church of Sonoma Valley: Small-town shopping away from the crowds and traffic. Shop for gifts including home goods, jewelry and decor. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 4. 19355 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. Masks required.

Occidental Holiday Crafts Fair: Head out to the west county to charming Occidental for this two-day fair with more than 35 local and regional artists, along with food, baked goods and a promised visit from Santa Claus. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 11, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 12. Occidental Community Center, 3920 Bohemian Highway, Occidental. For information, email

Red Barn Holiday Show: Red Barn Studios in Petaluma opens to holiday shopping, featuring paintings, ceramics, jewelry, textiles, handbags, soaps and more. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 11 and 12. 3820 Bodega Ave., Petaluma.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or OnTwitter @megmcconahey.

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.


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