A woman in a cow onesie with large angel wings walked down a long hall lined with pop-up stands full of homemade jewelry, candles, pastries, vintage clothing, chocolates and records. She weaved between the families, couples and college students gathered to peruse the Providence Flea Valentine’s Market.
The “holy cow” was Laura Burkett, promoting her partner Sue Fracker’s card game called “Cowbell.” Fracker was one of several vendors who founded their business during the pandemic.
On the evening of Feb. 11, local vendors and Providence community members gathered at FarmFresh RI’s facility on 10 Sims St. for the Providence Flea’s first night market of 2022. In addition to its quirky charm, the market offered local craftspeople a chance to sell their products 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. The flea market’s founder, Maria Tocco, estimated 150 new vendors began participating in the market during the pandemic.
Fracker was one such vendor. She said the “Cowbell” card game, a matching game with the goal of discarding one’s hand, was a way of showcasing her illustration skill.
“I was looking for a vehicle for my artwork and the Cowbell idea 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 that would make kind of a fun card.”
She has been surprised by the game’s popularity. “People have been so supportive and really love playing it,” Fracker said. “So that’s a joy for me, I don’t know why I didn’t expect that.”
Traci Chandler, owner and founder of Casted by T, is 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 durable, hard plastic. She mixes the two liquids together and pours it into molds. After 24 hours, the resin cures and hardens, becoming extremely tough.
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 rose and gold flakes to the resin. “They’re (some) of my personal favorites,” Chandler said. “It looks very elegant and classy.”
Chandler taught herself to make art with resin during the pandemic. “I came across a resin video one day and decided to give it a shot,” she said.
After becoming injured, Chandler decided to leave the culinary field and pursue her resin business full time. Almost two years later, Chandler now has an online store and sells at markets in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. “I wish I did it sooner,” Chandler said.
Roses N Dragon Designs is another resin business born during COVID-19. Melanie Steinbrecher’s business in resin jewelry highlights natural and mystical elements.
A graphic designer and recent graduate of Roger Williams University, Steinbrecher collects 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 pieces of it,” she said. “This gave me something to do with it.” She is transitioning to making the business her full-time job and comes to the market every other Sunday.
True to the name of the business — a reference to Dungeons & Dragons — Steinbrecher incorporates dragon scales in her designs. “I actually make things with my pet bearded dragon scales,” she said.
During the summer, Steinbrecher brought her bearded dragon, Alduin, to the market. “He’s like a little mascot for the business,” she said. “If it's warm and sunny, he’ll just sit on my shoulder and bask in the sun.”
COVID-19 has not phased vendors at the Providence Flea Market, as indicated by the “Spread Love not Covid” slogan on the market’s Valentine’s Day flyer.
“I think we were one of the only markets that was running regularly during COVID,” Tocco said.
Tocco closed the market because of the pandemic for five months, but reopened as soon as possible in the Farm Fresh RI market hall. Fans and a high-end filtration system, along with one-way traffic rules and capacity enforcements, have helped the market stay open, Tocco said. “People told us how safe they felt here,” she added.
Tocco emphasized that the market has stayed active despite obstacles created by the pandemic, and has seen a lot of business and foot traffic these past few weeks. “Last weekend was gangbusters,” she said.
She added that she views 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 created some challenges for small vendors, it also gave others like Chandler the chance to pursue a new hobby, or even a new career.
“It started off as a hobby in the quarantine, and I didn't expect to own a business at all,” Chandler said. “I would not believe anyone if they told me I’d be here two years ago.”