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North Hall Christmas Market lures big crowd, offers unique items
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Hannah Tench, front, walks ahead of her parents, Dustin and Leah Tench, in 2017 at the North Hall Community Center Christmas Market. The Tench family lives in Clermont and said they were happy to have a market with so many vendors close to home. - photo by Nick Bowman

Two-year-old Hannah Tench, dressed from head to toe in holiday reds and whites, fit right into the Christmas market as she paced down the booths, stuffed kitty in hand.

Tench and her parents, Dustin and Leah Tench, were at the North Hall Community Center Christmas market on Saturday. They said they were happy to see an event of that size, with almost 100 vendors, so close to their home in Clermont.

It was the second year for the market, which was open on Friday and Saturday and doubled in size from its first go around in 2016.

“We kind of put something out there kind of quick just to test the waters and see how it would go,” said organizer Shanda Sexton with Hall County Parks and Leisure. “We ended up having about 42 vendors last year, and this year we ended up with 93 total. We’ve grown a good bit.”

Last year, about 200 people went to the market. By midday Saturday, the market was past 400 visitors.

The hallways, rooms and gyms of the community center were lined with merchants selling bath bombs, homemade woodwork, clothing, Christmas decorations, scents, leather dog collars, knives and a wide array of other goods — even snakeskin Christmas ornaments.

Near the entrance, Bridget Tuckey and her husband were selling custom dog gear, including collars, bowls, beds and car hammocks, through their business, Wild Hound Outfitters.

The hammocks aren’t what you think: They protect the back seat of your car when you’re riding around with some dirty dogs.

“If your dog spends a lot of time outside, if you travel with them a lot, you can just hang them from the front seat to the back seat,” she said of the hammocks. “They’re made out of wax canvas and they have a leather edging. We can do them black, blue, gray, brown and everything in-between.”

Dirt shakes out from the water-resistant canvas or can be sprayed off with a hose, Tuckey said.

They make the goods at their shop in Cleveland and they do most of their sales online, but have been poking around North Georgia thinking about a storefront.

Farther back in the community center, Tonya McConnell sat by a shaded lamp under her homemade cloth tent, looking very much the part for her business: Heart of a Gypsysoul.

McConnell makes upcycled clothing, taking pieces she finds and makes changes to them with thread and needle.

“I just have an eye for what I’m looking at,” she said. “People used to try to give me old clothes, and it doesn’t work like that. I’ll look and I’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, I know what I can do with this.’ I have a vision when I see it — it’s like the soul of it.”

The seamstress sells to a few boutiques around Northeast Georgia, but does much of her business traveling to different festivals and markets. Some of McConnell’s biggest events are the Lavender Festival near Dahlonega and BBQ and Brews.

The business started about four years ago but became more serious in the past two.

“I’m a single mom and I have a special-needs son, and I was working in corporate America for about 15 years,” McConnell said. “It was getting harder for me to take off with him a lot, so it was a lot easier for me to be flexible and do something that I love and tend to him, and grow my soul.”

Over in the gym, one vendor booth at first looked like another homemade jewelry shop, but Caleb Gibbs was manning a very different sort of jewelry store. Gibbs and his wife, Kerstyn Webb Gibbs, sell snakeskin jewelry,  but not the leather pieces found on expenses boots and belts.

“A lot of people will get kind of freaked out, they’ll kind of back away, when we tell them what it is,” Gibbs said. “But as we start to explain it more and they get to looking at it — especially the resin pieces — they start to warm up to it a lot and they usually end up buying something.”

Kerstyn Gibbs uses the naturally shed skin of their 14 snakes and lizards to make earrings, dog tags, necklaces and even guitar picks. The couple press the shed skin against a metal backing and coat them with resin.

The result is an eye-catching, iridescent look that didn’t come from harming any animal.

“It’s a natural process, and really we’re just not wasting anything,” Caleb Gibbs said.

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