OXFORD — Vendor registrations have been finalized. Floor plans have been drawn. The advertising campaign has been executed. In other words, it’s go time for the 45th annual DECA Craft Fair. On Saturday, Nov. 23, 166 crafters will descend on Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School with their wares and as soon as their displays are ready, doors will open and 3,000 holiday shoppers will crowd the aisles.

OHTS seniors Noah Oufiero and Tanner Herrick are co-chairing the 45th DECA Craft Fair. Submitted photo

“It’s one of the biggest fairs in our area,” said Tanner Herrick, Co-Chair of this year’s event. “We have vendors from all over, as far as Pittsfield, Millinocket and from New Hampshire, too.”

Started in 1974 as a fund-raiser for (and run by) students participating in DECA (formerly known as Distributive Educational Clubs of America), the event has grown into a seasonal staple with a loyal following.

“We see people return year after year,” said marketing educator Wendy Robichaud, herself mentoring OHTS student presenters for the twelfth time. “There are even people that come from Connecticut to shop here.”

While the DECA Crafts Fair is not juried, it is competitive to get into and vendors are expected to present hand-crafted goods for sale. Marketing students start working on the project the day school starts in September and spaces fill almost immediately.

“All applications go out to last year’s vendors on our first day of school,” said Co-Chair Noah Oufiero. “Within two weeks we get confirmation from all who want to renew. Then we review what we have for openings, and email invitations to participate to prospects.”

One hundred and sixty-six vendors will participate in the 45th annual DECA Craft Fair at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Nov. 23. Submitted photo

There are rarely more than 20 open spots left available and first-come/first-served reservations immediately follow the second call for vendors. According to Robichaud, the prospect list contains about 365 interested craftspeople.

With such a long-standing track record, and continued support from former students even years after they’ve graduated, Oufiero and Herrick appreciate that they’ve earned a well-oiled machine to manage. But this year the pair are overseeing a big change—the addition of food trucks.

“Providing food has always been a challenge because we aren’t a culinary program,” Robichaud said. “It adds a lot of work. So we’ve added food vendors. Hopefully people won’t mind stepping outside to get something to eat.”

Mainely Hot Dogs of Portland (its menu is more than its name suggests) and Smokin’ Phil’s Belly Bustin’ BBQ of Monmouth (which is exactly as it sounds) will set up their trucks and grills in the parking lot of OHCHS to feed the fair’s patrons. If it goes well Robichaud hopes to expand food offerings next year.

“Having food trucks is right in line with our local vendor philosophy,” she said. “And it is saving us a lot of time.”

Oufiero and Herrick, both seniors, worked the craft fair the last two years as part of their marketing track in the DECA program. One of the things that drew them to DECA is the opportunity to participate in state and national conferences.

“DECA has given me the chance to travel and to compete,” Oufiero said. “There are only two high schools in Maine right now that do it. So last year we partnered with a school in New Hampshire and went to the conference there. There was so much going on, it was great.”

The experiences Oufiero has gained through DECA will be a big asset for college and his career beyond. After attending either University of Maine Farmington or Thomas College in Waterville he wants to work in sports management.

During his sophomore and junior years Herrick competed in automotive service and then marketing management; when he goes to the state competition this spring he will probably return to the automotive segment. He would love the chance to go on to the national conference in Nashville.

“Working on the DECA crafts fair, going to the competitions, it’s a great way to learn,” said Herrick, who has not narrowed down his college choice but expects to study business administration.

The conference will feature as many as 30 challenges. Students are presented with a scenario pertaining to their field and given 15 minutes to work out a solution that they role-play. Each student is judged, and the two top performers are chosen to represent the state at the national event.

Maine-crafted goods priced from one to hundreds of dollars will be on sale at the DECA Craft Fair Nov. 23. Submitted photo

Oufiero and Herrick will start preparing for spring conferences as soon as the craft fair is over. But first they’ll have to get through the next few days. On Nov. 23, the two will facilitate 166 vendors arriving at the high school and setting up within a roughly two hour window. There will be shuttle rides, questions about booth locations and last minute adjustments. And then the hoards of shoppers will move in and through the fair, a five-plus hour retail fest.

“I enjoy it, it’s like working in the real world,” said Herrick.

Oufiero agrees. “There is no make-up on this,” he said. “You have to do it, or it doesn’t happen.”

 

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