RICHMOND — Katie Tooley had no idea where a homemade bracelet and bow business would take her five years ago.
She admitted starting out slow, but now is busy most weekends in the area at fairs and other events selling a variety of wares.
“I like the fact people like what I make,” Tooley said. “I get to interact with people. I love it when they run around with the swords when it is dark out. I am making people happy.”
Tooley is spending this weekend in her own backyard at the Richmond Free Fair. She spent her youth attending the fair.
“I like coming out here to Richmond because I grew up in Richmond,” she said. “I get to see [people] that I went to high school with ... kids that go to go school with my nieces.”
She has fond memories of attending the fair.
“It was the first fair we had ever been to growing up,” Tooley said. “It is pretty cool. It has grown each year. This year there is more kids running around than last year. To be a part of it is awesome.”
Tooley sells bracelets, bows and key chains constructed out of military-grade paracord. She added homemade signs last year and sells different type of cups this year. She also added the popular spinners this year.
“My nieces saw that in the catalog and said ‘aunt Kate you have to order this,’” Tooley said. “So, I ordered it.”
The bracelets and bows are still the most popular items, Tooley said.
Tooley got the idea about five years ago to make the paracord bracelets and bows after watching a youtube video.
“I needed something to do during the summer,” Tooley said. “I needed a way to unwind and make a little extra money. I started by selling that. It has slowly built into Yard Yahtzee, mugs, wine glasses and signs. I have light-ups I buy for kids to play with at night.”
Tooley spends the school year as the Ottawa University sports information director. Her work load slows down in the summer, which allows free time to attend the area fairs.
She said this turned into a year-round hobby. She makes the bracelets and bows during the fall and winter months while watching television. She said it takes her about 10 to 15 minutes to make one.
“I make about 15 or 20 while watching basketball or football,” Tooley said. “It keeps me busy. All this stuff was done in the winter. Every once in a while I work on stuff [at the venue].”
Tooley can custom make a bow or bracelet on the spot or resize a bracelet she has on hand.
“I make sure I bring my stuff, so I can adapt it,” she said. “They can get what they want. That is the important part.”
Tooley said being from the area is a comforting feeling for her and the customers.
“There is a trust factor there,” Tooley said. “It helps a lot.”
She saw the trust factor last year at the Lane Fair when a child asked her mom to buy a bracelet. Tooley said the mom recognized her and told her child, “‘Why didn’t you tell me it was Katie Tooley.’” she said.
“It is nice to have that connection,” she said. “Knowing everybody and they know me.”
Another factor is returning to the same events year after year, which gives her repeat customers.
“I had a little girl that bought a bracelet [at Richmond] and she bought one last year,” Tooley said. “People say ‘I remember you from last year.’ I had a girl come by and say ‘you have more stuff this year.’ You get into that rhythm of going each year.”
Tooley said strangers seem to warm up to her by sharing their life stories.
“You get to meet so many people and get to see what they do different in their hometowns,” she said. “You get to see different walks of life. I get told how their lives are going ... about their kids. I told my mom ‘I must have that face that I look very friendly because they spill their guts. It is cool.”
Tooley usually sells her wares from May to August with one show in the fall. Tooley likes to start planning for the next year toward the end of June.
“I like to stay in the area,” she said. “I know it. It is closer to home. A lot of times I have to pick and choose. What is closer to home? What do I have to update? I try to go someplace every weekend.”
She said some years two of the events may have their dates coincide. That happened this year with the Coffey County Fair and the Franklin County Fair next week.
She sent in her registration for Coffey County before she realized both fairs were on the same weekend. Tooley said she enjoys being at both events, but expects to return to the Franklin County Fair next year.
One special place Tooley goes to every year is a bazaar in Wea, a small town near Louisburg. Tooley said that is where her parents were married and the event is on a fall Sunday afternoon.
Tooley said this small-time hobby turned into something much more than imagined.
“I enjoy it,” she said. “I get a chance to see a lot of people. Come out to the Richmond Free Fair.”