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COMMUNITY VOICE

Disrespect mars vendor's experience at recent Johnny Appleseed Festival

Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 12:01 am

The weather was perfect — glorious blue skies, temperatures in the 70s and a gentle breeze to discourage the bees. Crowds estimated at a quarter-million people munched on turkey legs, sampled homemade root beer, wandered through rows of colorful fall mums and perused more than 100 craft booths.

It was the 38th Johnny Appleseed Festival, held annually to honor and celebrate Fort Wayne’s legendary folk hero, “nature’s nobleman.”

It was my 26th year to participate. I hope it won’t be my last.

But in recent years, discouragement and disillusionment have colored my enjoyment of and enthusiasm for the experience — attitudes that are no reflection on the festival’s operation (which is stellar), the venue (which provides a perfect setting for a pioneer festival) or the majority of my customers (who are faithful and encouraging).

It’s all about respect — specific conduct and speech that reveal deference, regard or esteem for another person and/or property — an attribute that is essential to the health and success of a society.

During the two days of the festival, disrespect reared its ugly head far too often and in a variety of ways.

Twice I had to ask men with nice cameras and telephoto lenses to stop photographing the items in my booth — both argued with me before unceremoniously dragging their companions away. People who used to sketch my work now take photos with their ever-present cellphones. My designs are original, often one-of-a-kind, and the result of hours of research, development and hard work, and I don’t want them copied.

Numerous people haggled with me to lower my prices on items they wanted. One person loudly proclaimed that I obviously didn’t want her business because I wouldn’t adjust the price of an $11 item. Others doggedly persisted in asking me to explain design techniques and procedures that have taken years to develop and refine.

An inventory revealed $145 worth of product missing — a framed sampler, a large pillow, a quilted Christmas table runner and more than a dozen small items that in aggregate required at least 25 hours to construct. While there has always been theft, it has increased alarmingly in recent years — both in the value and size of stolen items. My business cannot sustain the losses without raising prices.

(I’ve always wondered how someone can use or display that item in their home, carry that bag, or wear that piece knowing he or she stole it from the person who created it and is sitting 10 feet away.)

The final straw, however, was the discovery midafternoon Sunday that someone had moved a large sawhorse-type barricade (placed to keep visitors from blocking the entrance) and parked there. In doing so, the driver side-swiped my car from front to back and left without having the decency to leave contact or insurance information. Repair costs will nearly wipe out one day’s income from the festival.

I always cringed when my elders began a sentence with, “When I was young,” but when I was younger we apologized when we did something unacceptable to another person — we didn’t respond with rudeness or sarcasm to a reprimand. We had respect for hard work and esteemed both the worker and his output. We admitted to mistakes and made restitution when necessary.

As a child, I stole a roll of Scotch tape. When my mother learned of my transgression, I had to earn the money to pay for it and confess to the store owner what I had done. I never stole again. Several years ago, I had to discontinue a series of in-home boutiques because people were stealing from my home.

A society is a reflection of its members. When people display contempt for others’ work and property and disregard for an individual’s value, civility cannot be sustained and everyone suffers.

In a few weeks, I will rent another trailer, load it with tubs of items that I’ve been creating all year and head north to Kendallville Apple Fest. When the applications for 2013 arrive in January, the disillusionment may have faded, and my enthusiasm may be restored.

We’ll see.

Deb Todd is a resident of Fort Wayne.