In the Adirondacks, where the snow starts falling in October, residents endure long, blistering-cold winters and an extended mud season called spring. When summer finally comes along, many locals are ready to spend it hiking, hanging out on the lake or having fun at the local fairs and other events that occur regularly throughout the region.
But for others, that's when it's time to work. A handful of local vendors look to the busy tourist season as a time to go out to the frequent festivals and make some money selling food, novelties and fun.
Judy Plummer of Snowy Mountain Crafts
and Novelties shows off her wares at the recent Tupper Lake Masonic Flea Market and Craft Fair.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Becky and Carl Larson prepare kettle corn for a waiting crowd.
(Photo provided by Carl Larson)
Tupper Lakers Carl Larson and his wife Becky started cooking kettle corn about six years ago. They wanted a side business and were looking for something that could include their two sons, Bryan and Devin.
"It was a way to keep the whole family together," Larson said.
They came up with a recipe for kettle corn and started up North Country Kettle Corn, selling the treat out of a tent at festivals and events around the Tri-Lakes and out of the region. It was good for the kids to earn money and decide how to spend it on their own, and it also taught them social skills at an early age because they were constantly talking with and trying to sell popcorn to people.
Bryan, now 16, has moved on to working at a local restaurant, but he still works in the popcorn stand sometimes when it is at a big event.
"He's a good worker," Larson said. "He's learned his working skills in the popcorn booth."
At first, Larson said, the family was constantly working, trying to hit every event they possibly could. They would use their vacation time to work the Franklin County Fair in Malone and bluegrass festivals out of the area, and they would find events to set up at every weekend.
They've cut back over the last few years, especially since the price of gas has increased. For one, that makes it more expensive to travel to events, but in the popcorn field, the price of gas had an effect on product, too. There was a push to develop more ethanol, so farmers were planting the higher-sugar corn that could be used to create the fuel rather than popcorn. The drove popcorn and vegetable oil prices up.
Since then, they have had to increase their prices, which Larson said they don't like to do.
"We try to give you a fair-priced product for what you're getting," Larson said. "We're not in the business of making a killing."
He said that since they are essentially a mom-and-pop vending operation, they can afford to charge a little less than the big, fancy wagons that cost their owners a lot of money.
Either way, their product is well liked. Larson said people will often tell him that they don't like kettle corn, but they like his kettle corn. And three or four times a year, people ask to sell his product at a store. It's not something he's figured out how to do yet, but may do one day.
In the meantime, he and his family will keep hitting the local festivals, serving popcorn and having a good time.
"Is this easy? No, it's hard work. Are we making a fortune on it? No." But, Larson said, "If we didn't have fun at it, we wouldn't do it."
Selling food isn't the only way to earn some money, though. Judy Plummer, a Tupper Lake resident, has a novelty booth she calls Snowy Mountain Crafts and Novelties. She sells toys, inflatables and crafts at the Tupper Lake flea market, the Woodsmen's Field Days and the Tupper Lake Street Fair and Business Expo, among others.
Plummer has been running her side business for about 20 years now, and her penchant for bargain shopping drove her to start looking into the prices of products and buying things in bulk when she could get a good deal on them.
"I never pay full price for something unless I absolutely want it," Plummer said.
She loves thinking through the math and figuring out if a deal is worth it.
She's also good a geometry. When she does events like the craft fair at North Country Community College, she has a small area to work with. So she buys graph paper and makes little cut-outs that are the size of her tables and racks and works to find a configuration that will fit them all in the space. There's usually not any room left for a chair, Plummer said.
Plummer is also a fan of crafting. She likes to find the potential in a scrap of fabric or some fishing line.
"I will be looking at something, and I will figure out what I can do with it," Plummer said.
She once took a boa-styled scarf, attached it to some string and a dowel, and turned it into what she calls a "walking worm" - a worm that looks like it's walking if the person holding it moves her or his hand correctly. This simple creation is something she can make in a half-hour and charge $8 for.
Strategy is just one of the reasons she runs her booth, though. She also enjoys talking with new customers at each event.
"It's so much fun, though, meeting the people and selling things," Plummer said.
Vending is not always for-profit work. There are plenty of people throughout the region who sell food and goods at local fairs to benefit community causes. These include local fraternal organizations like the Rotary Club, which was selling cotton candy at the Saranac Lake Block Party Aug. 6, and the Masons.
The Saranac Lake Masons sell their famous (locally, anyway) sausage-and-pepper sandwiches at local events like the Block Party. They also sell Hofmann's hot dogs, a brand that can only be purchased in Syracuse, which customers overwhelmingly chose in taste-testing at a local church picnic a few years ago, said Bob Brown, a former master of the lodge.
They also try out new things every once in a while, he said. One year they tried making fried candy bars. Another time they made "Walking Tacos," crunched-up chips mixed with sour cream, salsa, cheese and other fixings, served in a bag with a spoon.
The Masons sell food to raise money for the lodge, part of which goes to upkeep of the building and part of which will go to local charities.
"The money we bring in, we try to put back in the community as much as we can," Brown said.
Jeffrey Wood is not just a fair and festival vendor. Yes, he sells food at the Mountain Music Meltdown and other festivals around the area, but he is more prevalent on a day-to-day basis than the rest of the region's vendors.
His business is called Woody's Brats and Hots, and he has a trailer he parks in the parking lot next to Cunningham's Ski Barn in Lake Placid for the summer.
He also has a hot dog cart that he sometimes parks outside Zig-Zag's Pub in Lake Placid or the Waterhole in Saranac Lake from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. He sells his food to late-night drinkers stumbling out of the bars. His presence, Wood said, will often stop people from getting into trouble outside the bars.
"There's not as much trouble when everybody knows somebody is watching it," Wood said. "I think we're a real community asset."
Wood, however, has been involved in some zoning disputes. Local food merchants have complained to the village of Lake Placid about his stand taking their business. Wood said there are no laws on the books that regulate what he's doing, but the village is putting out a new land-use code that will probably address it.
"So who knows what's going to happen," Wood said.
But in the meantime, he's just going to keep selling hot dogs.
"It's fun, working a late-night job," Wood said. "We do it for the fun of it. We make a few bucks here and there. We certainly don't get rich off of it."
Contact Jessica Collier at (518) 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Aug. 22 pint edition of the Enterprise.)