Columbia Holiday Festival attracts local vendors and shoppers

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COLUMBIA - One of the largest holiday shopping events in mid-Missouri takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Columbia Exposition Center. 

The Columbia Holiday Festival draws between 1,500 and 2,500 shoppers during the two-day extravaganza, organizers said.

Local vendors say it's the quality of the products and the ability to buy something more personalized for loved ones that keeps shoppers coming back year after year. 

Marla Nilges has been coming to the Holiday Festival for six years. This year she has two booths at the event for her businesses, Classroom Connect and Cotter Pin Cellar.  

"It’s not Amazon. You get to touch, feel, and see the product before you actually buy it to see if it's something that would accommodate your family or your loved ones as a gift," Nilges said. 

Many of the vendors that attend the festival sell handmade products. Each year, the items sold range from custom jewelry to handmade Christmas decor to children's toys.

Kenneth Cook, owner of Fur 4 u, has been a vendor at the Holiday Festival for six years. Cook said the nature of the event gets people in the mood to shop for the holidays.

"This is something different," he said. "I think there’s a need in the country for people that do unusual and American handmade stuff, and so that’s why we’re here."

The unique gifts and handmade products aren't the only reason the Holiday Festival draws a crowd year after year. Some vendors said the ability to connect one-on-one with customers is invaluable.

Lisa Bennett, owner of Lisa Bennett's Flower Garden, switched roles at this year's festival. Bennett has been a shopper at the event for as long as she has lived in Columbia. This year she decided to set up a kiosk stocked with her handmade wreaths, with hopes of connecting with potential buyers. 

"If you can connect with your customers and sit and have a conversation with them, I just think it's so much more personal and it just brings the people back in to shopping, which you kind of miss a lot during the holidays, especially with online shopping," she said.

The Columbia Holiday Festival is open Saturday, Nov. 17 and Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. Tickets can be purchased at the door.