- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

NORWICH, Conn. (AP) - Christmas carols and Santa Claus’ hearty laugh echoed off the walls of Norwich’s Otis Library Saturday during the eighth annual O’tis a Festival holiday craft fair.

The event brought more than 40 vendors together under the library’s roof to pedal their wares amid holiday-themed attractions and activities.

“For us, it’s a chance to do something downtown, to get people down here and be part of the day,” Otis Library development manager Kate McDonald said. “It’s a nice chance for people to come down, spend the day and see what the library has to offer.”

The festival has grown into something of a community staple over its near-decade, and for Norwich residents marks the unofficial start of the holiday season, McDonald said.

“(The festival) is a really nice kickoff to the holiday season,” she said. “We have the (Norwich Tech) choir, we have Santa, we have cards for the troops. so it’s a nice opportunity for people to come and enjoy the holiday spirit.”

The atmosphere inside the library each year for the festival is jovial, and the day always allows vendors to meet new people and catch up with longtime customers, they said.

“I always have a good time here, because they bring in a lot of people,” Pottery n’ More owner Sandy Lindsey, of Mystic, said. “So there’s a constant flow, and you get to meet new people.”

Lindsey has been selling her handmade pottery at O’tis a Festival every year since 2012, she said. Other offerings included homemade chocolates, stuffed animals and hand-crafted art from Kenya.

Kris Kringle himself was in building, ready to visit with children. Balloon artists and face painters also had children giggling throughout the library.

Outside, Norwich officials and business owners played the role of “celebrity parkers,” helping festival attendees find free parking. By about 10 a.m., The Bulletin’s parking lot was jam packed with guests.

Newer vendors said they also had a good time interacting with Saturday’s crowd.

“This is my first time doing this, and I heard Otis was a very good place to be,” said Eleanor Miller, who was selling handmade woodcrafts. “I really like the idea of being in a library. It’s a nice atmosphere, and it’s right in the middle of town so it’s easy for people to get to. It’s working.”

The sentiment carried over to attendees of the festival as well, they said.

“It was a good opportunity to bring the kids out and show them a lot of different kinds of art,” Shawn Schlieper, of Norwich, said. “We’ve only been here maybe like 10 minutes, but it’s really cool.”

But not everyone at the library Saturday was the for the festivities. Book borrowing carried on as usual amid the dozens of craft booths, and all of the computers in the library’s technology center were occupied by children researching school projects and playing video games.

The fact that all of those aspects of the library are able to come together at one time shows how important Otis Library is to the Norwich community, Mayor Deb Hinchey said.

“I think this is terrific. You look at all the people here and it really is,” she said. “I think the library really is a center of the community, and it’s wonderful to look around here and see people you don’t even know. So without a doubt it’s a good thing.”

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Information from: Norwich Bulletin, https://www.norwichbulletin.com

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