This 60 year old festival is the largest in Indiana. Spanning 10 days each October the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival brings out over 1.5 to 2.0 million people each year to not only see the counties 31 covered bridges, but to also shop from thousands of vendors offering everything from handmade crafts to surplus items from stores.
The Covered Bridge Festival is a county wide event that attracts people from all over. The area is beautiful and with the right product mix and location you can make a lot of money there. As I just stated though “Location, location, location” because there are areas in each of the towns that participate that vendors struggle to get visitors to notice them. The real issue here is not only the right product mix and location, but accepting credit cards as the only real carrier that works in this area of Indiana is At&t and that is hit or miss. However, At&t does offer land line service for a fee which for the 2017 show was $150 for the 10 day event or you can use their wifi service that they put up for the same price and it is again hit or miss.
The solution that many vendors have found including at our sister company Walnutmill is to use the Square sytem. With Square you are able to operate in offline mode. Sure there is some risk involved as your transactions will not batch until you obtain a connection to the internet, but most vendors that we speak with tell us that they only see one or two declined sales a year using this method. In our thought process it is better to take that small risk as opposed to potentially losing sales from customers who may not want to carry cash with them or have run out of cash.
Something else you are going to want to consider is which location you will showcase your products in. If you are true handmade crafter this is really going to be important for you at the Covered Bridge Festival. The reason we say this is that from our own experience and from speaking to other vendors with handmade products the right choice can make your week great or utterly miserable. We are going to go over each of the main towns and discuss further who to contact for space and also what types of products seem to fit best. While we don’t have every property owner yet to offer you we do hope that other vendors will share additional information which will be added to our site and this article to update the various areas.
The origins of the festival date back to 1957 when a group of local women held the first festival. Lasting only 3 days and held only in Rockville the festival was organized to help visitors learn more the counties 31 covered bridges. Over the next 60 years the festival has grown to incorporate 9 communities, thousands of vendors and millions of visitors each year. Growing from 3 days to 10 days the festival has become an event that is known nationwide.
To participate in any of the fairs, festivals and craft shows within Indiana you will want to obtain your Indiana business license and tax ID number. The last thing you want to do is to run afoul of the government. To do this you Indiana makes it real easy with one website to obtain it all. Simply shoot on over to INBIZ and get your licensing, tax registration and if you have employees your withholding certificate all done in one easy website.
If you plan on participating in the Covered Bridge Festival you will also need one more thing for this event and that is your TML or Transient Merchant License and I will assure you that they do check for these during the event and they must be posted in a visible spot in your booth. Do yourself a favor and register early though and save yourself the $50 late registration fee that you must pay if you fill out the forms after October 1st. The cost for this license will vary according to the types of products you sell or your status with the county.
- $100 if not exempt plus a $20 processing fee if you are not a resident of Parke County or pay real estate taxes in the county.
- The fee drops to $20 if you meet one of the following criteria: You are an Indiana non-profit organization, an Indiana resident who is a veteran (must provide a copy of DD-214) or ALL of your products are handmade by Yourself.
You can find all the current information for the TML on the Parke County Website.
For much of the festivals history Mansfield, Indiana has been the largest part of the festival with estimates of 1 million people visiting the streets of this small village of 43 each year. Mansfield is divided mainly between two major property owners one on each side of the historic bridge. On one side you have Mansfield Parke offering over a 100 vendor spaces for both product and food vendors. In addition they manage an RV Park where you can setup for the duration in your RV or pitch a tent as many do. There are also several other land owners on the same side as Mansfield Parke bringing the total vendor spaces to somewhere between 300 and 400 on this side alone.
On the opposite side of the bridge you have several hundred more vendor spaces including the Big Tent which is upwards of 2 to 3 football fields in length. This side has more of a flea market feel than the other side, but offers an opportunity for vendors that have products that appeal to a flea market crowd. The Big Tent is operated by a new owner who is out of Kentucky. You can reach them by phone at 270-792-7169 and as of this moment we have not found a website. Additional vendor space is available from Jims Parking and is among the most affordable space rentals in Mansfield.
While Mansfield holds the largest festival of the 9 communities that participate in the festival each year it is not the best place for people who make their products by hand. Over the years the trend at Mansfield has shifted from hand crafted to products that can be found at your local Wal-Mart or Dollar General. While there are still hand crafted vendors in Mansfield the shift has been towards general products. With a flea market type atmosphere visitors who come to Mansfield have a bargain type attitude so if you are a vendor who sells flea market style products you will thrive in Mansfield. This is not to say that hand crafted products will not do well in Mansfield. The key is going to be finding those items that people just have to have. One more thing that makes Mansfield interesting is that most of the town is geared toward a couple of events each year.
The small town of Rockville is not only the county seat for Parke County Indiana, but also the birth place of the Covered Bridge Festival. During the course of the 10 day festival the town square becomes the focal point of the festivities. Rockville has a great mix of vendors and food and while not as visited as the larger events at Mansfield and Bridgeton the community still attracts a very large number of visitors each year. One advantage to Rockville is the number of vendors being lower. A lower vendor count can help increase sales as the number of choices that visitors have is limited. There are a few places within the town that offer vendor space and can be found at the towns festival website Coveredbridges.com. In addition they offer information on vendor space contacts to the other communities that participate in Parke County, but some of this information seems to be outdated.
The second largest of the areas participating in the Covered Bridge Festival – Bridgeton is an old an historic town. Founded with the building of a sawmill on the banks of the Big Raccoon Creek in 1823 the town remained small scenic. Home to the Conley’s Ford Covered Bridge Bridgeton is our favorite place for the 10 day festival. The scenic look and indoor vendor spaces are second to none. Also if you are a handcrafted vendor this is your best choice for selling your items. Handcrafted vendors that we spoke to at this years 2017 event said they saw 3 to 5 times the number of sales from the Bridgeton show versus their booths in Mansfield.
As with Mansfield where the visitor thought process is towards flea market deals the visitors of Bridgeton have a totally different product in mind when they visit this community. While flea market style vendors still do well here their crafting counterparts find their place here is more solidified than in neighboring Mansfield.
Remaining Vendor Friendly Communities
While the 3 communities we have spoke of so far are the main places where vendors go they are not the only options. There are 3 smaller villages that also offer vendor spaces, but show smaller signs of visitors. However, even though these are smaller communities that are less traveled they still offer amazing opportunities still. From our experiences some of the best shows we have done have come from small events that have fewer visitors and fewer vendors to choose from. People tend to like deals and when faced with few choices they will often times shop at what they find to avoid having to travel. The villages of Rosedale, Mecca and Montezuma offer potential opportunities for these types of events that we just mentioned. The contact information for these communities can be found at Coveredbridges.com.
While the Covered Bridge Festival has a high rate of attendance there are still challenges here. The number of vendors in some of the villages can make it hard for vendors to make a profit. Also this years event showed signs that visitor attendance was down in some communities such as Mansfield where long time vendors stated that this was the worst festival that they have seen in years. This does not mean that there is not potential though. It just means that you as vendors have to take a look at where you will place your booths and what types of items you will offer.
- Parke County Website
- Jims Parking and Vendor Space
We would be glad to get your opinion. Rate the overall event and give your review from your point of view as a vendor. Remember the information you provide will help others decide if this event is right for them.
- High Attendance
- Cheap Camping
- Poor to non-existent cell service
- No Internet service