Inventing Ourselves

Binge-watching “Inventing Anna,” I had all the usual reactions. The story is absolutely bonkers and also, in true Shonda Rhimes fashion, plain addictive. Halfway through the show though, something strange happened. I found myself having a funny feeling: I was kind of identifying with Anna’s quest to make ADF a reality.

Almost a decade ago now, I undertook a project that was somewhat similar in principle — with some key differences that precluded criminality, thank you very much.

My project did involve a stunning building, an elevated multi-layered experience, and a young enterprising European gal in New York (me) who had never done anything quite like that before. On the flip side, the scale of my project was a gazillion times smaller, nobody got stiffed and I have no problem admitting that I did dress like I was, uuh, poor.

Another key difference is that my project actually did become a reality. In December 2013 I launched Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar, an annual holiday market that went on to flourish until its final edition in 2019, right before the pandemic hit.

For years I had been musing about what an ideal craft fair would look like. I was devoted enough to local handmade goods and entrepreneurship that I kept a blog about it — blogs were the podcasts of 2012 — and visited craft fairs around New York City the way other people go to Disneyland. I loved discovering new makers, listening to their stories, understanding what goes into the process and craft of creating small-batch products. More often than not, I left handmade markets inspired by the people selling their wares and unsatisfied about the events themselves. Some were simply too big and overwhelming, or there was nothing to eat. In the winter, during the peak holiday season, venues tended to be dark and depressing, and if I had my kids with me there was nothing for them to do other than whining and unwittingly attempting to get lost.

My mental map of this ideal event came into razor-sharp focus over time. I knew exactly what the different moving parts should be and how they would work together to create a greater whole. I saw it all in my head just as vividly as Anna saw herself walking the halls of 281 Park Avenue flanked by billionaires. Dreams sometimes become too real to shake off, so despite having zero event experience and no connections in that world (not to mention a full-time job I loved and two small children), I set off to figure out how to make it happen.

The first piece of the puzzle was the most crucial: securing the perfect venue. Beautiful, bright, big enough but not too big, with connected spaces to allow for different activities beyond shopping. I had attended a couple of events around that time at a venue that fit the bill perfectly. 501 Union gave me the first victory by agreeing to host a one-day event for a reasonable fee, but they were also the first check I had to write, which was pretty scary. Cue self-doubt spiral: “I’m putting my money where my mouth is, but what if nobody wants to participate? Or worse, what if we manage to assemble a great lineup, but no one shows up?” From what I gather, Anna never had those types of thoughts, or fulminated them instantly if she ever did. I signed the check, and after those initial butterflies, I set off to work.

One by one, I convinced dozens of talented local makers to give the show a chance and spend one of the busiest days of their holiday season at my event. Local restaurants came on board to serve food at the event, beverage brands signed up for the bar. Kids activities got fleshed out. A sponsor agreed to provide gift wrapping free of charge. The design team that I am immensely lucky to run in my regular job created marketing visuals that helped the event seem much more solid that first year. And I worked my tail off to get the word out.

December 14 came around in 2013, and the event was an honest success. People came. Lots of them. They spent good money. They found unique things they loved, and they had a great time. The vendors asked when we would be doing this again.

The next day, still pulsing with excitement and exhaustion from the day before, I started working on a 2014 event.

Over the next six years, my rogue little fair would grow to become a multi-day series featuring the most talented makers in town, drawing thousands of people each day and bringing me more joy and pride than I can begin to describe. Like the makers whose work I so admired, I created something out of nothing. My tools were different, but I too had managed to take an idea, shape it until it was just right, and put it out for the world to enjoy. And it became a business of its own right. For four months every year, I juggled what basically amounted to two full-time jobs, both of which were my design.

Eventually, the event came to its final edition in December 2019. There comes a time in just about every Brooklyn real estate relationship when the rent ought to be doubled. It happens. That turn of events coincided with me leaving the city for the Hudson Valley—a moment of major change. I decided to give myself time to reimagine what the next iteration could look like, to find my new 281 Park Ave in the country.

And then the pandemic hit. The temporary hiatus was extended somewhat indefinitely, and I came to realize that there was no point in trying to recreate what had been perfect. I had managed to make that dream-like vision a reality. I had learned so much, and had enjoyed every minute of it. Instead of always chasing more, more, more, sometimes it’s best to close a chapter when we feel satisfied.

I wonder — if ADF had materialized, would it have been enough for Anna?

When it comes to inventing ourselves, we are the ones who have the keys to the car. How we go about turning those persistent dreams into reality almost always involves a certain dose of fake-it-til-you-make-it. It is up to us to decide just how far we are willing to take the make-believe—and when we we can honestly say that we are satisfied.

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Teresa Lagerman

Teresa Lagerman

Hudson Valley // Musing about donuts 60% of the time