Christmas may be more than a month away, but that didn’t stop thousands of shoppers from hunting for uniquely Alaskan gifts at the Christmas Arts and Crafts Emporium.

More than 200 vendors from across the state filled the Dena’ina Center on Saturday and Sunday. Thousands of products were on display – there was everything from clothing to paintings to jewelry for sale. In order to qualify as a vendor, 51 percent of the product being sold must come from Alaska.

“This is the largest arts and crafts show in Alaska,” said operations manager Mike Fox. “The show is typically sold out a year in advance. Vendors are always trying to get in. We typically have a wait list of 100 vendors or more.”

Eagle River couple Bob and Cherie Clark has been making fire starters with recycled antlers for 25 years. They say the emporium is an opportunity to market a product that Alaskans demand more than people in the Lower 48.

“It helps people. If you’ve ever had the experience of being cold and wet and not being able to start a fire, this works when nothing else will,” said Bob Clark.

The Clarks say they decided to sell fire starters to make an impact beyond generating income for themselves.

“Two or three times a year, we have somebody come back and say, ‘I think you probably saved my life’,” said Bob Clark.

Organizers estimated 30,000 people visited the Dena’ina Center during the course of the two-day event.

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