Robin Huebner Reports: Fargo street fair mainstays: Two vendors haven't missed a fair yet
FARGO - A local man can say something few of the other 250-plus artist and craft vendors at the Downtown Fargo Street Fair can say.
Ralph Fiskness of Moorhead has sold his wares at every street fair, which is now in its 39th year.
He and Dave Huebner, from the tiny town of Bushnell, S.D., are the only craft vendors who have not missed a Fargo street fair since 1975 – its first year.
Fiskness, a retired teacher, and his wife, Jewell, a retired nurse, sell rustic wood signs from their booth at the corner of Broadway and Second Avenue North.
The signs feature messages such as “We don’t skinny dip – we chunky dunk” and “Fishermen, hunters, golfers ‘n’ all other liars – welcome here!”
The signs can also be custom-made on site by Fiskness, who free-hands the designs on cedar or basswood boards using a router in the alley behind the Fargo VFW.
He’s willing to put just about any saying on one of his Rustic Redwood Inc. signs.
“If it’s decent, I’ll print it,” Fiskness said as he flitted between the booth and his makeshift shop.
Fiskness, 64, said his family pretty much “grew up” at the street fair.
In the early years, the couple brought their two young boys along with their playpen so the children could be close by in the booth.
As they got older, the boys became helpers, and the youngest son eventually had a stint as a street magician at the fair.
“Now the kids are gone, and it’s just Ma and I,” Fiskness said.
At first, the craft business helped pay for their kids’ college education.
Now it’s the couple’s summer retirement job. They travel to craft shows in the Upper Midwest, and occasionally beyond.
Fiskness said the Fargo street fair is their biggest money maker, by far. Two hours after the fair opened Thursday, they already sold enough product to cover expenses.
Fiskness also sells his signs through the online handmade marketplace known as Etsy.
Kristina Kaiser of Fargo bought a sign for her family’s lake cabin from the Etsy website, not knowing Fiskness was local.
She was delighted to learn she could pick up the sign at the street fair instead of having it shipped.
“I loved his stuff, and when I saw he was from Moorhead, I loved it even more,” Kaiser said.
Just a block south of the Fiskness booth in front of Royal Jewelers, you’ll find Dakota Stoneware, operated by Dave Huebner. He’s the other street fair long-timer.
Huebner makes all sizes of clay cups, bowls and figurines. He said buffalo figurines are the most popular, in these parts.
“Bison stuff, I gotta call it that,” said Huebner, 69.
His start in pottery was not a promising one. “I flunked ceramics at SDSU (South Dakota State University) in 1966,” he laughed.
But he kept at it, and now processes 10 tons of clay every year – selling his works at 20 shows and to around 30 shops.
“It takes a lot of $2 buffalos to keep the wolves away from the door,” Huebner said.
He makes many of his figurines while sitting in his booth, as fairgoers browse. “It helps keep my fingers out of the junk food.”
Over the years, Huebner has “seen it all” at the street fair.
He remembers when vendors were on the sidewalk instead of the street, and a stagecoach from Bonanzaville would load up with kids to make trips up and down Broadway. He also remembers the time the temperature at the street fair reached 108 degrees.
“There was a guy over here selling wax dragons, and they were kinda droopy,” Huebner chuckled.
While operating a booth at the street fair means hard work and long days, the money and the lure of tradition keep Huebner and Fiskness coming back every year.
“When you’ve been part of something, you want to keep being part of it,” Fiskness said.