Julie and Darrell Lepper visited a flea market in Shipshewana, Ind., more than 20 years ago, and it sparked an idea for a way to usher in springtime with family fun in cities throughout the Midwest.
Shipshewana On The Road is a gift, food and craft show founded in 1992 and introduced to Fort Wayne in 2014. The event travels to about 20 cities per year throughout Indiana, lower Michigan, western Ohio and Eastern Illinois from mid-October to early May.
This year’s event in Fort Wayne will be March 12 & 13, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, 4000 Parnell Ave.
“Everyone is experiencing cabin fever and it’s time get out of the house, be with friends and enjoy the day,” says Event Coordinator Gregory Fountain, the couple’s son. “It’s time to put the winter doldrums aside and see what’s new in spring for the yard, the home and for personal use. It’s a very fun event and there’s something exciting and unique for the entire family.”
The show will feature 300 booths with jewelry, home décor, pine furniture, specialty foods, fashion accessories, personal care items, pet supplies, cookware, cleaning supplies, books, home party items, toys for children, artwork and much more. About one-third of the vendors bring handcrafted items to the show and about a quarter of the vendors have an online business.
Since the last Fort Wayne show, prior to the pandemic, there are 30% more vendors, says Fountain. About half of the booths are occupied by crafters, 20% by food vendors and 30% sell other items.
Julie Lepper, President of JDL Corporation, says the event includes a carefully selected mix of vendors who sell items that are nearly impossible to find at most retail stores.
Among the vendors is Cory Rairigh of Peru, Ind., owner of Rustic Livin’. He recycles wood from cut-down or fallen-down trees by making yard art for people at reasonable prices. He carves the likeness of bears, fox, racoons, rabbits, birds, flowers, butterflies, owls, and other animals. He has 1,200 pieces ready for this year’s show.
At the request of his customers, Rairigh’s newest items are varieties of dogs and bald eagles. His most popular subjects are bears holding tools, flowers, or signs that can be personalized.
“No two pieces are alike because no two pieces of wood are the same and each item has its own personality,” he says.
Rairigh comes from a long line of woodworkers and, even as a child, made things out of wood and sold them at the Shipshewana Flea Market, where his parents had a booth. He continues to sell his items at that market May through September.
Rairigh says there’s a family feeling among the vendors as they prepare and sell items for families to enjoy.
“The vendors all know each other and although they’re competing for business, they’re also a teamworking together to make sales,” he says. “There’s something for everyone.”
Cherie Carigon, owner of DC Vending, sells home décor, yard art and handmade soaps at Shipshewana On The Road, and for 20 years has been to every location.
She says the show is unlike any other, in that it’s well organized and focused on giving shoppers a wide variety of items to browse and purchase.
“There are many unique, one-of-a-kind items you would never find anywhere else and they’re not all handmade,” Carigon says.
She enjoys making her booth look different every season and never sells the same item for very long. Her specialty is handmade glycerin soaps, which she says are hard to find in stores.
“Because people love the soaps, I get customers who will stock up for the entire year. I always try to make my booth so attractive that people can’t help but stop in to see what I have to offer. People love country-style home décor and whatever is new and interesting in yard stakes. More and more people are making little oases in their yards and changing the look from season to season.”
There’s pent-up demand this year because of the pandemic, she says.
“I think a lot of people took a good, hard look at their homes and yards during the pandemic and decided to clean things up and redo areas of their homes. A lot of people are choosing to work in the yard and make that space look more appealing and be more functional,” says Carigon.
Yard items with butterflies and hummingbirds are always big sellers, and yard stakes with spinners are used to keep critters from invading gardens for a meal.
Over the years, Shipshewana On The Road has earned a reputation for being a quality show offering quality products, Carigon says. For that reason, shoppers return year after year to see what new items their favorite vendors are offering.
“There’s such a large variety of fun things to see and do. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s just a fun place to be,” Carigon says.
Many of the food vendors make their products at their booths and people enjoy watching snacks being made, such as pretzels, kettle corn and roasted almonds and pecans.
A concession area operated by the coliseum will offer hot dogs, hamburgers, soups and other items.
The event attracts about 10,000 people a year and the show headquarters is located in East Leroy, Mich. Adult admission at the door is $5. Children 12 and under are admitted free.
Learn more at shipshewanaontheroad.com or call (269) 979-8888.