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Whidbey trade fair packs in record crowd

Bruce  MacNair, left, of Van Every
Bruce MacNair, left, of Van Every's Engine Service, describes the benefits of a synthetic motor oil to prospective customer Chris Hunt.
— image credit: Jim Larsen

Record attendance was set at last weekend's Uniquely Whidbey Trade Fair and Home Show in Coupeville.

The two-day event at the high school attracted approximately 5,000 people to the three buildings filled with exhibits at Coupeville Middle/High School. Businesses exhibiting their wares overflowed out onto the sidewalk where visitors could find hot tubs, a variety of food offerings and even a solar powered water fountain erected by Whidbey Sun & Wind.

Scott Lincoln, a board member of the coordinating Island County Economic Development Council, said the crowd was evenly divided both days, with about 2,500 touring the businesses Saturday and a like number on Sunday. Major show sponsors were the port districts of South Whidbey and Coupeville.

A perusal of the exhibits revealed the eclectic and innovative businesses created by Whidbey Islanders. Perhaps living on a island sparks the spirit of entrepreneurship -- or so it seemed walking down the aisles of displays.

Business people with booths at the fair were offering gift baskets, sewing products, garden items, cooking products, T-shirts, used books, stick furniture, mustard, art, lavender, fudge, soap and myriad other homemade or homegrown products.

More traditional businesses were also represented, such as banks, credit unions, tire and auto parts stores and construction. Everything seemed of interest to the throng on Saturday.

"We're getting a lot of interest in our products," said Tom Van Every of Van Every's Engine Service from Oak Harbor.

At that moment, salesman Bruce MacNair was trying to sell Chris Hunt some synthetic motor oil good for 25,000 miles, as compared to regular oil that should be changed every 3,000 miles.

Hunt, with his wife and kids by his side, was tempted.

"It's better than changing oil once a month," he said.

Taking a lower pressure sales approach was Vanca Lumsden of Greenbank, who was reclining on a piece of homemade "twig furniture" like a Whidbey Island Cleopatra while reading the book "Night Whispers."

"I just smile at people and if they want to talk, they'll talk to me," Lumsden said, describing her sales technique. When they asked, they were told about her "adventuresome twig furniture."

A variety of charitable and social service groups took advantage of the trade fair to meet the public and advertise their presence in the community. The Coupeville Lions Club gave away free popcorn. President Ron Boyer had trouble keeping up with the demand, while Pat Verrier tried to keep the waiting crowd in order.

Mike Diamanti used the event to showcase his new mobile espresso cart. Normally he sells his Island Coffee Ltd. out of the Whidbey Pies Cafe at the Greenbank Farm, but now he can take the cart to trade shows, weddings, parties and other social gatherings.

"There is, to the best of my knowledge, no other mobile espresso cart on Whidbey Island," he said.

The cart was capable of offering most beverages imaginable. Oak Harbor resident Bruce Hartley walked up and ordered a tiny shot of Italian coffee, which he prefers because, he said, "You don't have to run to the john after you drink one of them."

"It's been steadily busy all day," said Diamanti, who started serving the vendors at 7 a.m. "I figured the vendors all wanted coffee, and they did."

Many of the businesses were familiar to longtime islanders, but one of the new faces belonged to Roberta Carmichael of RicRaq Baskets. She fills baskets with a variety of products made or grown on the island and elsewhere.

"I'm just getting started," she said. "This is my first trade show because I'm new to the island."

She handed out plenty of business cards, hoping people would remember her when the holidays arrive.

Artist Stacey Neumiller of Coupeville had many works of art framed and hanging for public perusal. She was pleased by the response.

"Lots of people are coming in and I've made some sales," she said. "It's good to get your name out."

And that was exactly the idea behind the trade fair when it started 11 years ago.

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