Christmas in October: Shoppers get early start at annual holiday festival

Christmas is over two months away, but the holiday season unofficially started in Tacoma Wednesday morning with the opening of the Holiday Food & Gift Festival at the Tacoma Dome.

Long lines of people waited for the 11 a.m. opening of one of the nation’s largest holiday gift shows, with more than 600 exhibits and displays in the Dome and Exhibition Hall.

Once inside, visitors – ranging from those just beginning their holiday shopping to those efficient types looking to finish off their Christmas gift buying – were treated to a cavernous display of arts, crafts, various Christmas displays and musical entertainment that will be a part of the event during its five-day run.

If opening day crowds and the sentiments of the vendors themselves is any indication, this year’s show should do very well.

“The economy seems to be coming back up,” observed Richard Stanley, of Stanley’s Woodcrafts, out of Spokane, who, along with his wife, Tina, is attending the Holiday Food & Gift Festival for the first time.

“Business has been very good,” he said of the opening day, noting event organizers told him they expected to do more business than last year, which is a good indicator of the region’s improving economy.

Conversations with other vendors throughout the day yielded similar results, he said.

Lonnie Keown of Danville, Wash., agreed: “Business has been pretty good. I’ve had a lot of return customers.”

She runs Goose Closet (, which offers plastic or cement geese for your lawn, porch or yard, as well as hand-sewn outfits by Keown for the simulated birds.

The plastic geese are imported from Massachusetts, she explained, while a mold is used to make the cement geese.

“My husband paints the geese,” Keown said.

“I bring new stuff for this show and build my client base,” said Keown, who is attending her fifth Holiday Food & Gift Festival.

Based on past experience, she predicted Saturday would be the festival’s busiest day.

“It’s just wild in here.”

As a first time vendor at the Holiday Food & Gift Festival, Stanley was impressed.

A seven-year veteran of arts and crafts national tour circuit, he gave high marks to the Tacoma event.

“This is a very well managed show. We’ve been treated very well,” he said, pointing out the coupons and bags for carrying merchandise that are provided to people as they enter the building.

Showcase Events, Inc. is the organizer of the event and is sponsored by local Kindercare schools, KMPS radio, King 5 television and Swarner Communications.

“We want lots of people to come to these shows,” he said approvingly of the opening day crowd, describing the Tacoma event as one of the better shows he’s attended.

Noting the vast array of items available, he said, “It’s such a diverse product line.”

He predicted continued good tidings for retailers this holiday season, reasoning that people want to get away from the “bad news,” such as the war in Iraq and focus on Christmas shopping.

He recalled that at a show in Odessa, Texas about a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there were a lot of people who turned out simply to get away from the constant television coverage.

Conversely, he said that the start of the war in Iraq earlier this year hurt attendance, as a lot of people – mostly men – stayed away to watch the television coverage of opening stages of the war.

That yuletide spirit is another reason – other than promoting business – that people come to the Holiday Food & Gift Festival.

“You meet a lot of interesting people,” said Tina Stanley.

The Holiday Food & Gift Festival runs through Oct. 26. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.