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FEATURE FRIDAY: Foothills Crafts doing ‘whatever it can’ to stay strong through Pandemic

Meri Lapham, left, is vice president of the Coffee County Crafters Association and manager of Foothills Crafts. Cindy Rayburn services as association president. Both artists also volunteer in the shop. –Photo by Susan Campbell

Story & Photo by Susan Campbell, Thunder Radio

Asked what they are doing to keep Foothills Crafts solvent during the coronavirus pandemic, store manager Meri Lapham says, “whatever we can.”

That includes selling masks sewn by members, increasing its online presence, and selling a piece of property located behind the building.

“We were shut down the whole month of April,” Lapham said. “I saw on the news where Vanderbilt had put out the need for masks. I thought, ‘Why don’t we do this for our own community?’ We started making masks and distributing them for free to doctors’ offices, banks, restaurants and other businesses in the area. They were so thankful.”

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After reopening on May 4, the store offered one free mask to anyone who came in. “We were losing our tourists, but folks would come in to get a mask,” Lapham said. “We asked for donations if customers wanted more than one mask. At the end of June, we switched to selling the masks for $2, with all proceeds going directly to the shop.”

According to Lapham, since May 4 the shop has raised almost $1,400 from mask sales.

“It was a way for us to raise funds and get over the hump of this, since we didn’t receive any help from the state,” she said.

“With the shop being closed, it really hurt our business, since a lot of our shoppers are travelers,” Coffee County Craft Association President Cindy Rayburn said. “About 85 percent of our business comes from interstate travelers.”

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In addition to the number of shoppers being drastically reduced, the association recently made the decision to cancel its long-standing Christmas craft show. According to Rayburn, holiday craft shows are being canceled at an unprecedented rate, and Foothills wasn’t getting the applications in from artists who wanted to sell their wares at the annual event.

“So, then we had to think a little harder about how we were going to make it,” Lapham said. “We have a piece of property in the rear of the building that we’re not using, so we divided the property and had it rezoned from commercial to residential, and now we have people lined up to buy it. The lot is big enough and zoned for a duplex.”

With the proceeds from the property sale the association hopes to pay off the mortgage and put the remainder of the funds into keeping the shop solvent. “It gives us a little money in the bank,” Lapham said.

Foothills Crafts was established in 1981 by the Coffee County Crafters Association, and serves as a showcase for local artists and crafters who are members of the association, and a place to sell their goods.

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According to Lapham, who has been manager for the past three years, artists bring their items to the association to be juried and, if they meet the standards, they are displayed in the shop. To exhibit, artists pay $50 per year, and a percentage of the proceeds from sales goes to the shop. The more an artist works in the shop, the less that percentage is.

“No one working in the shop gets paid,” Lapham said. “The shop is solely run on volunteers, and has been for 39 years.”

In addition, Foothills will be pushing online sales on the Facebook page, since the majority of patrons live out of state.

“We will miss the snowbirds this year,” Lapham said, referring to interstate travelers who head south for the winter and stop to shop along the way.

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 Foothills Crafts is located at 418 Woodbury Highway in Manchester. Hours at 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Email, or visit Facebook at Foothills Crafts & Gifts Shop.

The Coffee County Craft Association is a nonprofit educational organization whose members are dedicated to generating participation in quality craft work through instruction and seminars, and providing facilities through Foothills Crafts for members to exhibit and offer their products for sale.

Juried craftsmen are qualified as exhibiting members in numerous categories using wood, clay, metal, glass and fibers.

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