Decades after her father worked at the Minnesota State Fair to put himself through school, Caren Schweitzer has set up shop at the Great Minnesota Get Together. Her business, Gadgets 4 You, is in its third year in the Grandstand where she sells everything from home gadgets to small electronics. So, with a week left of the 2016 State Fair, learn Who The Folk Caren Schweitzer is.
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How did you get started having your business at the Fair?
Creative Resources started 23 years ago and we fit into the promotional product space. Probably 15 years ago, I needed to separate myself from a very saturated industry of what they call “trinkets and trash,” which is not what we do. It’s an affordable means of advertising that is “trinkets, not trash.”
Ten years ago I started running the State Fair gift shop. We did that for six years and the State Fair Foundation took it over. I went back to my normal job. It was great. I love the Fair. My dad, Stan Schweitzer, was a CPA, but he worked his way through college scooping ice cream cones at the State Fair for commission. I’ve grown up going to the Fair. I love the Fair. It’s kind of come full circle.
I know the people at the Fair still, I called them up and said ‘I’ve got something great. I don’t know if you have space, but I have these great gadgets that aren’t at retail. They’re in the promotional world, but not the consumer.’ Timing is everything, and the auto dealer that was in the grandstand was moving out and they had all this space. They want new and innovative and cool.
What type of gadgets do you carry?
We learn every year. A lot of what you’ll see is from Nod, which is our private label, on the kitchen side of things. We focus on the $10 and under impulse market. The goal is to have inventory and products changing from year to year, but one item we’re bringing back is a solar power-bank for charging phones. You can charge it with the sun or indoors with lights.
I look at the fair as a place to people watch and eat too much, not as a place to shop. Is it a challenge to change people’s perception?
It was my perception that needed to change. I thought people wanted cheap, so the first year we brought in all these tiny chargers and screen cleaners and things for a buck. They don’t want that; they want kitschy, they want cool, they want good value. A lot of what we do are deals: one for this, two for that. It’s about quality. Fairs used to be thought of as cheap. If you buy it there you think of carnival games. It’s not anymore. If you walk through the grandstand, they’ve got great stuff. We’re importing, but it’s bringing that small business to Minnesota. This was a niche that the Fair didn’t have. The stuff we’re bringing to the Fair is useful, well-priced, and people do like it.
I love the fair. Ask me on day 4 or 5, maybe not so much. But I like when people get excited to see the product. And it’s a great focus group. I misread the fairgoers. They want cool, kitschy good value. We fit into that.
What new foods are you most looking forward to trying?
I go to my staples. Pronto Pups are my staple, and I only go to the Pronto Pups booth, not the corn dogs. I like deep fried pickles. What’s really good, up in Heritage Square, is Bluebird with a really good meatloaf on a stick. It’s a sweet, tangy barbecue sauce. Sometimes I’ll grab that and eat it on the way home.
I think if you’re a Minnesotan, the State Fair is the State Fair. My daughter’s husband is like ‘Really, we have to go again?’ But he isn’t from here.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
Probably Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur time. I like the fall. I like getting everybody together. I like evaluating. All that schmaltzy stuff.
Favorite Jewish Food?
Probably a good brisket. It’s that holiday-time food. But I always loved Hanukkah with my children, making Hanukkah cookies. Who doesn’t love a sugar cookie in the shape of dreidel?Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!