What started as a simple gathering of friends is now a humongous holiday tradition in RVA.
Roughly 30,000 people are expected to pack into the Richmond International Raceway this weekend during the four-day-long Bizarre Bazaar. The holiday shopping extravaganza, which features 500 vendors from across the country, started in 1975 in a more modest form. Frances Herrington would know. She was there.
“I went to the first show with my mother,” said Herrington, who has been the Business Manager of The Bizarre Bazaar for the last 15 years. That first event was held at The Tuckahoe Women’s Club and started by Alice Siegel.
“I had three small children, and I wanted an avenue to make some money,” said the founder of Bizarre Bazaar with a chuckle. She wasn’t alone. Having grown up in a culture that didn’t always abide in a robust female workforce, Siegel was one of several women in a clique of creative friends all interested in making extra money from their talents. For instance, one friend made alphabet block Christmas trees, others made candy, and so on. “We had the idea of renting a facility and getting together” to sell their crafts to the public, Siegel said. The first Bizarre Bazaar had 22 exhibitors and drew roughly 200 visitors.
The Bizarre Bazaar has since snowballed into a mammoth holiday tradition. As the event’s grown, so has its home. After surpassing the space at The Tuckahoe Women’s Club, The Bazaar hopped along a trail that took them from The Jefferson Hotel, Greater Richmond Convention Center, to the indoor facilities at the Richmond International Raceway (RIR).
“We would love to make it bigger,” Herrington said. When asked if the The Bizarre Bazaar would need to seek a larger home to accommodate further grow, she said there is no current venue large enough in the area to support its current size and future growth–one that also has free public parking like RIR. Instead, she said organizers are focusing on making The Bizarre Bazaar “exclusive and upscale.”
To do that, organizers must lure quality vendors. “We try, in the jury process, to get things you can’t find in the local mall,” Herrington said. Organizers travel the country throughout the year looking for new vendors and products, often in the form of a fledgling business, to invite to the annual holiday event.
As with previous years, visitors this week can expect to see Christmas decorations and gifts, gourmet food books, clothing, children’s toys, jewelry, furniture, designer gift wrap, and more. “There’s something for everyone,” Herrington said. “It’s kind of one-stop shopping.” She said it’s not uncommon for people to need multiple trips to haul purchases to their cars.
This year, The Bizarre Bazaar will have early bird shopping from Thursday to Saturday, giving people an opportunity to shop stroller-free for two hours ahead of the regular opening.1 Today, The Bizarre Bazaar will donate door proceeds from a special Merry Massey night to the VCU Massey Cancer Center, as it’s done for the last 10 years. Herrington said The Bazaar has donated roughly $500,000 to the center over the past decade.
Herrington knows better than most how people have embraced The Bizarre Bazaar as a Richmond staple during the holidays. “There are people who have been coming since the very first one,” Herrington said. “People make a holiday tradition of it.” That includes a group of women from Philadelphia who each year travel to Richmond to attend The Bazaar. It’s a commitment to the event that creator Alice Siegel couldn’t have imagined when she started The Bizarre Bazaar 38 years ago.
“It’s amazing the following we have,” Siegel said.
The Bizarre Bazaar runs from December 5th – 8th at the Richmond International Raceway. Tickets are $6.50 at ticket outlets or $7.00 online.
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- Regular hours are Wednesday – Saturday from 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM and Sunday from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM. ↩
photo courtesy of The Bizarre Bazaar