Bob and Janice Hunt started Carolina Shows Inc. in Matthews 40 years ago, but you may not recognize the business name. More likely you’ll recognize their holiday-dressed mouse (Curtis) or the name of their annual craft shows: Christmas Made in the South. Every October artists and crafters from all over the US kick off their holiday sales season by setting up booths for three days in Cabarrus Arena. Over the long weekend, they’ll see about 15,000 shoppers. Those shoppers trek from all over the Carolinas and beyond to the Cabarrus Arena for the Charlotte-area Christmas Made in the South Show.
About 20 years ago the Hunts’ son Russ joined the office crew. Despite growing up involved in the show production, Russ wasn’t initially interested in continuing the legacy. After graduating college with a theater degree the younger Hunt tried it out for a season and was hooked. Russ remembers, “That first year was insane, scary and fun so here I am 20 years later and still having a good time with the shows. It's nice to provide this experience to communities and wonderful to see what a tradition it's become to so many people.”
It’s no easy feat organizing a craft show where each vendor is responsible for making their own unique wares for sale. Nothing commercially made or manufactured is allowed, a standard that keeps the business operating full-time year round. Carolina Shows employs five people in their Matthews office and hires an additional 5 part-time employees to help operate the show itself.
While holiday ornaments in retail stores seem out of place in September, Carolina Shows begins even earlier. Their holiday season during the summer, when vendor applications begin arriving in the daily mail. The applications are processed and then judged based on the quality of artists’ work. “There has to be creativity with their work as we do not allow any commercial products in our shows,” Russ explains. “A good rule is that it has to be at least 50% altered to be considered a craft.”
“We have more than 300 artists and craftsmen,” says Janice, the show director. “Many of them will be demonstrating their work. (Our) show is rated in the top 100 fine art and craft shows by Sunshine Artists, which rates more than 100,000 shows in the country.” Each show is carefully curated to include a diverse group of vendors, from blown and stained glass to handmade clothing, and jewelry. Only a few crafters of each genre are accepted, including the fanciful polymer clay work of Matthews Artist Karen Elizondo.
Every October artists and crafters from all over the US kick off their holiday sales season by setting up booths for three days in Cabarrus Arena. Over the long weekend, they’ll see about 15,000 shoppers.
From their Matthews office near the Brace YMCA, Carolina Shows produces six Christmas Made in the South shows starting with Charlotte. After that the full tour includes Columbus, GA, Macon, GA, Savannah, GA, Jacksonville, FL and the season ends in Charleston, SC. Carolina Shows also organizes one spring show in Savannah, GA.
Brainstorming for the future, Russ hopes to one day create an "Outside Division" of shows and have more outdoor arts and crafts fairs. He laments, “It's tricky though to find the correct location and economically it's a bit tough.” In the meantime, they’ll continue to produce incredible arts and crafts shows, and it all starts in Matthews.