Debbie Wood is jammin’.
She’s good at it, too. It’s not that unusual for her to sell out of her jams and sauces by the end of the day. That’s a good thing. It surely helps.
But it’s her jammin’ for small businesses and craft show vendors that has sets her apart and in these difficult times has earned her a reputation for making it happen.
Jams and sauces are a sideline for Debbie. She started We Be Jammin’ six years ago. It engages her friends and her autistic son, Jason, who has the confidence to bag purchases, thank customers and tell them to enjoy their purchase. Watching her son interact with strangers is a big plus for her.
But then, putting together the Small Business Saturday show on the grounds of the Crowne Plaza was also a personal reward. She doesn’t get paid to do it, and just like the 86 other vendors, she paid for her space.
“Without these events, these vendors have nothing,” she said. “It’s not a hobby for these people.”
We Be Jammin’ was a regular at the Goddard Park Farmers Market. That’s where Debbie started making connections and realized many vendors would severely suffer because of the pandemic. Craft shows and events such as the Arts and Crafts Show at Gaspee Days had been canceled. She questioned if a crafts show could be staged at Goddard Park. The idea was rejected, she said, because it involved the exchange of money and that wasn’t permitted at the park. She was told the farmers market was an exception because that is a state-run event.
Undaunted by rejection, Debbie turned to the city, contacting Russell Moore at the Department of Economic Development and Tourism and then James Scott at the Department of Parks and Recreation. Pawtuxet Park seemed like the ideal spot, and she started down the path to making it happen. She contacted Warwick Police, filed for a permit and checked with vendors to see what they thought of the plan.
As it turned out, her timing couldn’t have been better. Gov. Gina Raimondo launched the Take It Outside initiative and the city was awarded a $40,000 grant to purchase outdoor heaters, a tent and advertising for events. Sixty vendors participated and more than 1,000 people attended the first Saturday Outdoors at the Park on Columbus Day weekend.
While the city recently took delivery of the tent, Debbie said there wouldn’t be a show this Saturday because of the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pause and the weather forecast. She is hopeful for Dec. 12.
Then there was Small Business Saturday, traditionally a big event for vendors.
Usually held in the Crowne Plaza ballroom, corridors and accompanying rooms, Debbie thought of Pawtuxet as an alternative – only with mounting requests from vendors, she realized it would be tight, especially if the weather was bad and vendors and customers had to be squeezed into the city tent that would have limited it to 20 vendors.
She thought of the tent outside the Crowne. That was larger and maybe with the addition of the city tent they could accommodate 60 vendors. Then she learned the Crowne tent was damaged in the October snowstorm and would be taken down.
She was left with the grassy area outside the Crowne. She opted for that although she faced the risk of bad weather and a price tag that she thought was unreasonably high.
It worked. Mother Nature delivered a perfect day with high temperatures for this time of year, plenty of sun most of the time and gentle breezes.
“If you do everything with good open intentions, sometimes it’s OK. No one has a private agenda,” she said.
Sarah Morris of Warwick is one of those vendors who extol Debbie’s efforts and how she has pulled the community of small businesses, like hers, together. Morris, who was a receptionist, went on maternity leave about two years ago. To bide her time, she took up tying bows of all sizes and then branched out to other accessories. After her daughter Neriah was born, Morris became a stay-at-home mom but kept perfecting her craft. Her company, Neriah Rose Bows, was born, and she connected with Debbie and the craft show circuit.
Ali Fidas is another on Debbie’s list. Fidas was swept up by the rock craze where painted rocks were left to be found. Those finding the rocks could do as they wished. They could keep them, give them away or put them somewhere else to be found. Gifted at painting characters and faces on the rocks, Fidas soon found she needed a source of income to cover her expenses including the white stones she imports from Greece. Crafts by Ali joined the circuit, too.
Debbie loves the community of vendors, although she’ll admit like many things in life there are a few who can be a pain demanding a certain spot in the layout or making unreasonable requests. Overall, she said, “They are so supportive of one another.”
Why is she doing this?
“I don’t need something else to do,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Upon reflection she adds, “I’m one of those individuals who gets involved in a lot.”
Any proceeds above and beyond the cost of running the Saturday events, which includes a police detail, rental of porta-johns and advertising, goes to the Warwick K-9. Debbie points out that K-9 officers and their dogs are often the first to enter an incident involving a possible shooter. While the dogs wear protective vests, Debbie is looking to purchase vests capable of protecting officers from high caliber bullets.
“[The officers] are saving someone’s life. They are doing this all day long,” she said.
Debbie owns Wood Boat & Motor on West Shore Road near the Apponaug underpass.
Looking ahead to spring and hopeful, as we all are, that the pandemic will be in the rear view mirror, she is thinking of doing a Warwick boat show. It’s in the formative stage. It’s possibly an event with both an on land and in the water venues.
She starts dreaming. Maybe she could involve the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and have trolleys between locations as well as water taxis from various Warwick coves. The ideas keep coming. She’s already looking at possible locations.
You would say she was jammin’ again for small businesses.