The Valentine’s Day flea market honors artisans

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A woman dressed in a cow jumpsuit with large angel wings walked down a long hallway lined with pop-up stalls filled with homemade jewelry, candles, pastries, vintage clothes, chocolates and records. She weaved her way between families, couples and students gathered to browse the Providence chip Valentine’s Market.

The ‘sacred cow’ was Laura Burkett, promoting her partner Sue Fracker’s card game called ‘Cowbell’. Fracker was one of many vendors who founded their business during the pandemic.

On the evening of February 11, local vendors and members of the Providence community gathered at FarmFresh IR‘s at 10 Sims St. for Providence Flea’s first night market in 2022. In addition to its quirky charm, the market offered local artisans a chance to sell their wares during the pandemic.

Three vendors at the event told the Herald they got their start during the pandemic and saw the Providence Flea as an opportunity to grow their business. Flea market founder Maria Tocco estimated that 150 new vendors started participating in the market during the pandemic.

Fracker was one such supplier. She said the “Cowbell” card game, a matching game with the goal of throwing her hand, was a way to show off her illustrative talent.

“I was looking for a vehicle for my artwork and the idea for Cowbell came to me because the cowbell is such a popular symbol,” Fracker said. “Everybody wants more cowbell.”

Fracker designed and illustrated the cards, which feature cows in different settings. “I just started drawing these characters,” she said. “I thought this would make a kind of fun card.”

She was surprised by the game’s popularity. “People have been so supportive of me and really love playing it,” Fracker said. “So it’s a joy for me, I don’t know why I didn’t expect it.”

Traci Chandler, owner and founder of Cast by Tis a chef-turned-resin artist who also launched a creative business during the pandemic.

Chandler explained that resin is a two-part liquid base that forms a hard, durable plastic. She mixes the two liquids together and pours it into molds. After 24 hours, the resin polymerizes and hardens, becoming extremely resistant.

Chandler’s resin pieces include coasters, pendants, small human body sculptures, ashtrays and paint palettes.

Recently, Chandler started making Valentine’s Day themed products by adding pink and gold glitter to the resin. “They are (some) of my personal favorites,” Chandler said. “It looks very elegant and classy.”

Chandler taught herself how to make resin art during the pandemic. “One day I came across a resin video and decided to give it a shot,” she said.

After getting injured, Chandler decided to quit the culinary field and pursue her resin business full time. Almost two years later, Chandler now has an online store and sells in the Rhode Island and Massachusetts markets. “I wish I had done it sooner,” Chandler said.

Roses N Dragon Designs is another resin company born during COVID-19. Melanie Steinbrecher’s business in resin jewelry showcases natural and mystical elements.

A graphic designer and recent graduate of Roger Williams University, Steinbrecher harvests flowers, mushrooms, tree bark and moss to put into her resin necklaces, earrings and rings.

Steinbrecher taught herself the resin process during the pandemic. “I’ve always loved nature and picking up little bits of it,” she says. “It gave me something to do with it.” She is making the business her full-time job and comes to the market every other Sunday.

True to the company name – a reference to Dungeons & Dragons – Steinbrecher incorporates dragon scales into its designs. “I actually make things with my bearded dragon scales,” she said.

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During the summer, Steinbrecher brought his bearded dragon, Alduin, to the market. “He’s like a little mascot for the company,” she said. “If it’s hot and sunny, he’ll just sit on my shoulder and bask in the sun.”

COVID-19 hasn’t phased vendors at the Providence Flea Market, as the “Spread Love not Covid” slogan on the market’s Valentine’s Day flyer indicates.

“I think we were one of the only markets that operated steadily during COVID,” Tocco said.

Tocco closed the market due to the pandemic for five months, but reopened as soon as possible in the Farm Fresh RI market hall. Fans and a top-of-the-line filtration system, along with one-way traffic rules and capacity enforcement, have helped the market stay open, Tocco said. “People told us how safe they felt here,” she added.

Tocco pointed out that the market has remained active despite the obstacles created by the pandemic, and has seen a lot of business and foot traffic in recent weeks. “Last weekend was gangbusters,” she said.

She added that she sees the market as a central part of the community. “The Sunday market is the mainstay … (it’s) what people know us for,” Tocco said.

While COVID-19 has created challenges for small sellers, it’s also given others like Chandler the chance to pursue a new hobby, or even a new career.

“It started as a hobby during quarantine, and I never expected to own a business,” Chandler said. “I wouldn’t believe anyone if they told me I was here two years ago.”

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