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Julie Mullette browses the MADE Fair, which spanned two buildings with handcrafted items from more than 60 vendors. Photo by LINDA THOMPSON/Missoulian

What began with 18 artists in a forgotten, second-story room above a Higgins Avenue restaurant has grown into one of the biggest, most awaited Missoula holiday markets and traditions.

This coming weekend, the seventh annual Missoula Holiday MADEfair takes place Sunday, Dec. 8., and this year, as in years past, it is bigger than ever.

So popular has it become, its founder Carol Lynn Lapotka, has had to move the fair venue nearly every year to accommodate the ever-growing number of shoppers, artists and craftspeople who want to be a part of the event.

On Sunday, for the first time ever, the fair will be held at the Adams Center at the University of Montana.

“It’s been moved there to allow for more space for customers to shop because we have been jam-packed at all the previous locations,” Lapotka said. “I’m pretty excited about it.”

Last year, the fair was held at the Holiday Inn in Missoula’s downtown, and in years past, it’s been held at the Elk’s Lodge, and at the Zootown Arts Community Center and its neighboring buildings on North First Street West.

The new, expansive location at the Adams Center has meant Lapotka could produce a fair like no other.

This year the number of artists has hit an all-time record of 150, Lapotka said. That number is exciting in and of itself, but because of the generous space, the fair will also offer many new and different kinds of services.

Such as a coat check, a “Momma Feeding Zone” where parents can take a quiet break with their children, and a student art show presented by the Flagship Program and ZAAC, Lapotka said.

“When you come into the building, near the concession will be a row of local nonprofits with tables where they explain what they do and how to get involved, and there will be something called the ‘Maker Alley,’ which is where science and art meet,” she said. “The Butterfly House people will be there with a lot of bugs to see, which will be great.”

The family-friendly event is about supporting local and regional craftspeople and artists.

“I started it because I didn’t see any alternative arts and crafts fairs, and I had participated in a lot of them when I lived in Wisconsin,” Lapotka said. “This is a way to promote non-mainstream arts and crafts, and this fair has become way more than that.”

What it has become, Lapotka said, is a key event that has helped keep artists going.

“Last year more than $250,000 was spent at the fair,” Lapotka said. “It had a huge impact on those 120 artist families, and a lot of people rely on it for that end-of-year shot to keep them going, and allowing them to do what they love to do.”

So convinced that the MADEfair has found its holiday home, Lapotka has signed a three-year contract with managers of the Adams Center.

“I think it’s worked out well,” she said. “And this year’s fair? It’s going to be awesome.”

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Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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