Merchants Through the Years

By Lady Miriam Ester bint Issachar
For the Pennsic Independent

Shopping. For many, it is one of the highlights of the War. Do you look forward all year to looking for that perfect item to complete your kit? Those supplies to help you in perfecting your art? Are you just getting started and need a little of everything? Do you need a gift to take home to the pet sitter?
Most of us will spend at least some time (and money) in the merchant area this Pennsic. When you do, please take a moment to stop and think about the merchants and what they do.
Merchants have always been a part of Pennsic. At first people merchanted from blankets or even out of their camps. By Pennsic 10 most were setting up in the barn (now the Market) by day, but had to break down for dancing and court in the evening. A few started setting up tents behind the barn area. Before Pennsic 11, PA tax law changed and a license for the site had to be set up. At first the site arranged for a tax license, but the number of merchants made that too difficult after a few years. Because of that, and other factors, the merchants were registered for Pennsic 12 and the area behind the barn was designated for merchants. Mistress Tzvea was appointed merchant autocrat and she was the one who started the merchant flyer.
The move to registered merchants who were required to have period tentage was a problem for the smaller scale blanket merchants, so the bazzar was created. This was a large tent were people could get table space to set up a smaller booth. The Bizarre had set hours and made it easier for the small scale merchants. Eventually, there were two areas. However, around Pennsic 40 things changed again and the bazzar was shut down, leaving the tent merchants, and a few small co-op groups.
By Pennsic 16, each merchant had to hold their own PA tax license and spaces were being assigned. Priority went to merchants with period tents or setups. This was an added cost for the merchants, but still the number of merchants grew and soon the merchants were on both sides of the barn and eventually spread out to the Battlefield side of the site. Around this time, due to mundane laws and other factors, it was decided that merchants needed to carry liability insurance. The first year one merchant arranged to put a large number of the smaller merchants under a single policy, but these days most carry their own insurance.
These challenges didn’t daunt most of the serious merchants, and eventually the waiting list could be measured in years, and a prime spot was in high demand. Pennsic is a ‘juried show’ meaning that new merchants must submit pictures of set up and merchandise to be considered. Priority goes to period handcrafted materials that are used to pursue SCA arts and items that support SCA activities. Those with period tents get priority and mundane items that are not SCA related are discouraged. Merchants must be open at least 8 hours a day and up until at least 11pm on Midnight Madness. They must have enough merchandise to last the war or they risk losing their space.
So as you can see, the merchant life is more than just setting up a table and selling enough to pay for your trip. It is hard work done by dedicated people who spend their year looking for the right items so that you can look your best. So while you go on your way, please think about the merchants you look forward to the most, and thank them for what they do.