CLARION — Exhibitors from several counties showed off their wares during the Pennsylvania Wilds Buyers Market on March 2. The event, held at the Gemmell Student Center on the Clarion University of Pennsylvania campus, featured handcrafted soaps, jewelry, snack items, wooden goods and more.
Sponsored by the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, the trade show connected some of the region’s small creative enterprises with area retailers and residents. The morning session was devoted to business-to-business activity, while the afternoon was open to the public.
The Wilds of Pennsylvania Cooperative vendors came from Jefferson, Elk, McKean, Cameron, Clarion, Clinton and Lycoming counties, all of which are part of the PA Wilds’ 12 1/2-county service area, a full one-quarter of the state’s geographical area. A network of more than 200 small businesses in this region includes crafters, lodging providers, outdoor outfitters, and those offering cultural and culinary experiences.
Lakeisha Knarr, an outreach specialist for the center, said, “We help these small businesses with everything from marketing to directing them to their nearest Small Business Development Center when it is time to write a business plan.”
The center provides guidance in finding financial lenders, technical assistance, other like-minded entrepreneurs, public lands managers, marketers and more.
Ryan and Brandi Magaro, owners of Rich Valley Apiaries in Cameron County, credit the assistance they received from the center and Clarion University’s SBDC for taking their home-based business to a higher level.
“We really appreciated their help in qualifying for the various certifications you need when you are selling a food product to the public,” Ryan said. “The Cameron Chamber of Commerce has been a big help in promoting our products in the region.”
Amanda Lewis of Clarion said she began her cold-porcelain jewelry business, Petal, as a hobby that soon morphed into a home-based business.
“In fact, it is very much a kitchen-based business,” she said. “I make the clay by cooking cornstarch, glue and a few other ingredients on my stove.”
Lewis said that most people are familiar with traditional porcelain created in a ceramics kiln. Her cold porcelain is a polymerization process, closely related to making plastic.
A painter by profession originally, Lewis adapted cold porcelain concepts popular in Russia, Thailand and Japan, developing some new ideas.
“While this hobby is very traditional in those countries, I went one step further and started making my own flower petal templates rather than relying on commercially available ones,” she said. “I go out, pick flowers and make paper templates from their petals.”
Jack Northrop, a woodworker from Kane, said that his business began as a sideline to building a bedroom set 50 years ago.
“I could not find carved bed posts that I liked for a reasonable price,” he said, “so I went out and bought a lathe to turn my own.”
In the following decades, Northrop branched out into making elegant wooden bowls from burls, the knots found on most trees that are of no use to lumbermen.
“Nearly all the wood I use has been salvaged or ‘found’ – stuff that cannot be used as timber,” he said.
Jason Bundt represented the PA Wilds Conservation Shop in the Kinzua Bridge State Park.
“The Buyers Market is a great place to promote the businesses we serve. The goods on this table have all been locally sourced, too,” he said. The goods included travel mugs, apparel and similar trade-show items emblazoned with PA Wilds-related logos.
Many of those items were probably produced by PA Made, a silk-screening business operated by Mickayla Poland, of St. Marys.
“I started out as a painter, and then I suddenly went from zero to sixty as a silkscreen artist,” she laughed. Poland produces everything from patches to logo apparel in addition to promotional goods for various business. All the artwork is of her own creation.
The Center for Entrepreneurship aids businesses such as Poland’s in obtaining licensing for their products, ensuring that their proprietary logos and goods cannot be appropriated by unauthorized users. This one step is crucial in keeping the cash flowing into the business owners’ coffers.
These Buyers Market exhibitors, and many more, are one part of a region-wide initiative dedicated to attracting more out-of-state visitors to the world north of Interstate 80. One of 11 tourism regions in the state, PA Wilds promotes small business that contribute to the $1.7 billion spent by visitors each year.