- Patricia Lois Nuss
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18 Stardust Video & Coffee
1842 E. Winter Park Road
Most holiday craft fairs position themselves as an antidote to the same old mall shopping experience. The Grandma Party Bazaar, on the other hand, is an antidote to the same old holiday craft-fair shopping experience. Like most cities, Orlando has been bitten by the indie-craft bug, and like most cities it’s currently rife with markets offering handmade goods, but from the beginning Grandma Party has offered something different.
Now in her ninth edition at Stardust Video & Coffee, Granny continues to be an explosion of anarchic creativity clothed in the sensible shoes and cardigan of a sedate market for tea cozies and afghans. Nothing against tea cozies or afghans – you might find either of those things at Grandma Party – but along with the usual knitted items, in past years the fair has sold intangible goods and experiences including custom songs about you written and recorded on the spot, a kissing booth and a wish-granting, glitter-tossing pair of pixies. This year you might see a “bedroom confessional” offering free relationship advice or a stall selling snowballs (the snowball-fight kind, not the kind you eat). Grandma Party doesn’t just sell art; in a way, it is art.
The first clue to that is the slogan: “Grandma Party is you and me and all of us making it happen.” Ring a Miranda July-tuned bell for you? While the slogan’s not an intentional echo, Grandma Party shares not only an aesthetic sensibility with July’s first feature film, Me and You and Everyone We Know – a faintly self-conscious twee-ativity – but many of July’s strengths as well: an ability to see art in the mundane, a tireless and ingenious maker’s spirit, an iron-clad work ethic.
“This is the ninth Grandma Party, but we don’t say ‘annual,’” organizer Christina Rapson says. “They used to do it twice a year, so we just call it ‘every so often.’”
The first was put together by former Orlando resident J.T. Almon, member of the locally legendary Band of the Name and major player in the mid-2000s Funbalaya band/dance/art collective. Six years ago in an Orlando Weekly story (“Love your neighbors,” Dec. 1, 2005), Almon talked up the kickoff party for his new Grandma Party record label: “a bazaar with 25 vendors selling crafts, topiaries and music.” The bazaar concept bested the label idea, and Grandma Party outlasted Almon’s tenure in Orlando. Before leaving, he handed things off to his friend Casey Szot; she organized Grandma Party for three years before moving away herself and passing things along to Rapson and her partner in the last few Grandma Parties, Ashley Belanger.
Despite a strong commitment to whimsy, professionalism has inevitably crept in. “When [it] first started, it was a bunch of friends who got together and did arts and crafts and made cool stuff out of whatever they could find. Now … I feel like it’s people with an actual craft, even if it’s not one they can live off of,” Rapson says.
One change from past years is that vendors now apply to participate instead of showing up in person to sign up on a first-come, first-served basis. The application process serves to ensure that there aren’t “15 jewelry vendors … I didn’t want it to be all jewelry, magnets, handbags,” Rapson says. “I wanted it to stay true to the weirdness of Orlando.” Weirdness will abound along with the jewelry and handbags. Just a few of the offerings: Local actor Dewey Chaffee (aka Wayburn Sassy) will sell custom “bird homes.” Alex Boeckl, proprietor/designer of Fat American T-shirts, plans to turn his booth into a mini Magic Mall. Painter-on-glass Brice Stephens will be selling art; his wife, Haley, will be selling preserves and flavored simple syrups (the first year Grandma has offered food items). And the nine participating bands are likely to get weird, too: “A lot of the bands are turning it into a full-on experience,” Rap- son promises. “Maximino is going to build a cave. SSLOTS is not bringing their drums, just using household items like pots and pans.”
Corinne Gam-michia, owner of Alchemy Salon, has been a sponsor and participant since the first year. While her salon is a going concern, a 15-year veteran of the Orlando scene and an employer/supporter of local artists on par with Stardust, Will’s Pub or Park Ave CDs, she appreciates the fact that Grandma Party is a place where fringier ideas can flourish: “It’s not just small businesses; it’s people who can’t [afford to] start a business.” Alchemy stylists do $20 haircuts right there in the Stardust parking lot, a steal compared to in-salon prices so long as you don’t mind getting sheared among the shoppers.
Stardust owner Brett Bennett is agreed by all to be integral to the success of Grandma Party. The bazaar is an entrenched tradition for Stardust, especially now that it’s settled into an annual holiday date. “He pretty much gives me free rein to do whatever … but he’s a stickler for tradition,” Rapson says, adding that Bennett “was upset” by a brief notion earlier this year of moving the date or canceling the bazaar altogether. And, as Gammichia says, “What would Orlando be without Stardust? It’s a hub for every open-minded person in Orlando.”
Everyone seems to concur that Grandma Party is both a community-building event and an expression of an already tight-knit community. Rapson hopes the vendors make money, but more than that, her ambition for the bazaar is to “jump-start something … maybe by being a part of this, you’ll go on to start your own thing, whether it’s a new friend or a new job or a new person to hang out and make art with.”
This year’s a granny reunion; both Almon and Szot will be at the party on Sunday – or, as Belanger says via email, “This year’s Grandma is so great, both original Grandma founders are returning to Orlando to attend.” This is the time of year everyone visits Grandma, but there’s no river to cross, no woods to traverse – just a scramble for Stardust-adjacent parking.