Each year on the first weekend of June, the doors to The Farm Chicks Antiques Show open, ushering in thousands of visitors, many of them eager to see how the entrance is themed and displayed.
Farm Chicks founder and producer Serena Thompson sets out to fill the entry with the equivalent of an art installation, drawing inspiration from her own personal journey throughout the year, translating it into physical form. A few years ago, for instance, Thompson created large floating clouds for visitors to view from below as they entered the building. It was a work of love to inflate 100 white balloons, attach them together, papier-mache them, and cover every inch with pillow stuffing. But in the end, happy floating clouds greeted the throngs and set the stage for what Thompson calls the “happiest show on earth.”
The cloud display, she said, was inspired by the theme of that year’s Farm Chicks show, “Dream Big.” “I’d been told by someone in business that I was a dreamer, that my ideas were too big, and that my head was in the clouds. And my response to that was, ‘Yes! I am a dreamer. I’ve always been that way and I always will.’ To me, that was actually a compliment. The clouds and the theme that year were my nod to that notion.”
And dreaming big can make big things happen. Today the show brims with nearly 300 vendors, covering four large bays in the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, offering vintage goods, handmade wares, antiques and furniture. Vendors share Thompson’s enthusiasm for staging, displaying their items in inventive ways.
Thompson carefully selects each vendor – she has an eye for editing out those who are not a good fit, and a gift of encouraging those who are. On the Farm Chicks website, under vendor requirements, it states, “Experience isn’t necessary, however friendliness is.”
This seems to be the overall theme of the show. Thompson said her ultimate goal is to produce a show that is a fun and happy experience for everyone. No grumpy sellers allowed. Perhaps this is one reason why more than 10,000 people return year after year.
When asked what she attributes her success to, Thompson said, “In business, I think it’s important to be original and forge your own path. There’s an authenticity that comes from that, and I think people really respond to that originality.”
Farm Chicks, now 11 years old, has evolved into more than an antiques show. It’s a weekendlong event with a growing following, and many visiting attendees plan a trip to Spokane around it. It’s become one of the best antique shows in the country, according Country Living, Woman’s World and Flea Market Style magazines.
Thompson grew up in what she calls a gypsy wagon. It was a wagon her father built out of wood that her family traveled and lived in off the grid in the backwoods of California. They lived simply and frugally. Thompson learned at a young age to be resourceful, finding treasures in thrift stores and up-cycling before it became trendy.
Without running water or electricity, she made her own clothes using a treadle sewing machine and learned to bake using a wood-burning stove. She attributes her upbringing with teaching her how to look at ordinary and found objects, and create new and whimsical uses for them. Like making fluffy white clouds out of balloons, newspaper and pillow stuffing.
Thompson now lives in Spokane with her husband, Colin, and their four boys. She is the author of two books, “Farm Chicks in the Kitchen” and “Farm Chicks Christmas,” and is a contributing editor for Country Living. She documents her life on her blog, thefarmchicks.com, where her post “How to make a Cloud” went viral on the Internet in July 2012.
When talking to others about starting their own businesses, she said she urges then to combine their passions with practicality.
“If you’re dreaming of starting a business, I think it’s important to focus on something that you enjoy, but it also needs to make sense,” she said. “When I decided to start the Farm Chicks, nothing else existed like it, and I knew there was a need. There were other shows in the country, but I really believed that I could bring something new to the table and do it in Spokane. A happy antiques show. I wanted people to come and experience the show and leave feeling good. It’s more than a show – it’s an experience, and I work really hard to make sure of that.”