Few craft fairs can compete with the selection, quality and craftsmanship found at the largest handmade-only market on the Front Range. The Firefly Handmade Marketplace caters to locals who are passionate about high-quality, small-batch goods, inspired by simplicity and mountain living.
“Our mission is to cultivate a passionate community of artisans and art lovers, rooted in creativity, quality and individuality,” says Beth Pomerantz, owner, operator and “curator-in-chief” of Firefly Handmade Markets, which she founded almost 10 years ago.
As the head of a small, woman-owned creative business, Pomerantz strives to support other creative businesses. “Firefly Handmade creates the ultimate indie craft market,” she says.
The Spring Market, which ran mid-May on Boulder’s Twenty Ninth Street mall, boasted over 100 carefully selected artisans, musicians and delicious options for foodies. Like the summer and fall markets, colorful, eye-catching booths display art, home goods, clothing, ceramics, paper goods, pet goods, artisanal food, jewelry and more. Returning visitors to the market might even recognize some familiar faces.
Alison Stern, owner and creator of Alison Blair Studio, is one of those familiar faces. She’s been selling her jewelry at the Firefly Market for multiple seasons, despite the fact that she says she had no artistic talent growing up.
“I got involved in jewelry by accident,” Stern says. Through her love of working with her hands, she learned knotting and beading techniques for over 15 years until she discovered her passion for a new medium. “I had never so much as seen a torch. I took a couple classes and the rest is history.”
Today, you can find Stern spending most of her time developing her Midnight Collection of oxidized sterling silver with gemstone accents or making custom pet key rings that feature one’s breed of choice, from golden retrievers to French bulldogs.
Finding that special gift for the person who already has everything is what the market is all about, says Jen Mabbett, owner and creator at Let’s Go for a Ride. Mabbett specializes in crafting unique dolls, cozy turtle pillows and precious star-shaped wands. Her journey with Firefly Handmade began with a request from one of her two sons for a turtle stuffed animal that was impossible to find in a store or anywhere online.
The chance to “make an instant connection with the purchase,” Mabbett says, is rare in a world of mass-produced products that can be bought with the click of a button. And it’s the “uniqueness, quality and one-of-a-kind sentiment” to handcrafted goods that have kept people coming back to the Firefly Markets for almost a decade.
In fact, it was the Firefly Market’s initial success that encouraged its expansion into a market for all seasons. Pomerantz is excited about the new Summer Market that will take place on Historic South Gaylord Street in Denver’s Washington Park this August.
Another distinctive feature of this growing community is the Junior and Teen Firefly Market. Exclusively featuring artwork by kids ranging from 7 to 17 years old, the Junior and Teen Market allows young creatives to gain valuable entrepreneurial experience and marketplace skills.
From the age-inclusive mentality to constantly incorporating new artisans into the community, it’s clear that the women behind the Firefly Market are dedicated to offering opportunities for exposure to their artisans.
“Firefly is a stand-out market because the promoters really care about their artists, which translates to quality vendors and a great clientele,” Stern says.
Mabbett agrees. “The crew that comes to Firefly is like family… You’re coming home to something good.”
Family is the backbone of the Firefly Market, from its network of creatives to their own inspirational families.
Hound and Soul, a handmade dog apparel and accessory hotspot, was created by Kathy Johns to serve a different type of family member. Her business gives 5 percent of proceeds to animal welfare organizations. Johns’ pups, Scully and Dash, motivated her to make high-quality designs that could withstand the Colorado elements. From collars to leashes to jackets, all of the items made at Hound and Soul are crafted with style, functionality and the opportunity for adventure in mind.
“The people of Colorado have a distinct, organic style that exudes confidence and beauty,” says Johns, a Kansas native. “You can’t help but be wowed by it.”
Stern grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and says the Colorado landscape, as well as her dad, largely influenced the design of her delicate sterling silver and 14K gold pieces. “He taught me to appreciate simplicity,” Stern says. “I find my most beautiful pieces are the ones that have very little going on — the ones when I know when to stop.”
Personal narrative is an integral component to the creation of the goods on display at this artistic gathering place, but the stories don’t stop with the artisans. Each object, made with an attention to detail and a love for the individual craft, continues its story with its new owner.
One of the most rewarding and motivating aspects of her time at the market for Mabbett has been sending a child home with a new doll, then having the opportunity to watch those children grow when their families return to the markets over the seasons. Connections extend beyond the weekend when the booths are up and the streets are filled with colors, music and the smells of delicious food. There’s a sense of camaraderie at the Firefly Market. Newfound, long-lasting friendships spill over into the daily lives of makers and buyers alike.
“For people looking to buy quality goods with a story and a soul,” Pomerantz says, “Firefly Handmade is the place to be.”
Check out the Summer Market, August 24-25, at Wash Park in Denver, and the Fall Fest Sept. 13-15 on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder.