GREENFIELD — Kelly Hendrick has been up to her elbows in wax over the past several weeks preparing for this year’s Riley Festival.

The Greenfield woman has been selling candles at the four-day fall festival for a quarter of a century now and has no plans of stopping.

When this year’s festival takes to the streets Oct. 6-9, Hendrick will be right where she always is — in a booth just east of Lincoln Square Pancake House, on the north side of Main Street, selling scented candles at $12 a pop.

Hendrick is among the hundreds of vendors who have been busily preparing their products for the Riley Festival, which draws an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 people to downtown Greenfield each October, starting on the first Thursday of the month.

Roughly 460 vendors are signed up to attend the festival this year, according to the event website,

Bonita James of Greenfield is among them. Her sewing machine has been working overtime, helping her to prepare the dozens of dresses she makes for concrete goose statues.

She also makes homemade dish cloths, kitchen towels, lanyards and wrist keychains, as well as wooden letters to hang on the wall. James estimates that she makes about 200 duck dresses and 2,000 letters each year.

She’s been selling her wares at the Riley Festival for at least 20 years now, ever since her children were young. Now her daughters Milla, 24, and Kaylan, 25, help out at her booth, which she shares with a cousin, Rachel Werner of Batesville.

“We call our booth The Hen House,” said James, whose booth has been in the same location for the past 18 years — on the north side of Main Street near Greenfield Banking Co.

She loves the sense of community found at the Riley Festival, which falls around her birthday each year.

“I like the atmosphere at the Riley Festival. I like being able to see the town celebrating something it’s known for, and the people who come back every year to enjoy it. I like being a part of that,” she said.

James also loves that her booth location gives her a front row seat for Friday’s Parade of Flowers and Saturday’s Riley Festival parade.

For Hendrick, working the festival is a great way to reconnect with people she’s gotten to know living her entire life in Greenfield.

“It’s like homecoming. You see people you haven’t seen in years,” she said. “I enjoy having repeat customers who appreciate what I do.”

For years, Hendrick made candles alongside her then-husband, Kevin Townsend.

When the couple split up, they each continued making and selling candles at the Riley Festival on their own.

Townsend’s booth, called Kevin’s Candles and Crafts, is on the north side of Main Street across from the former Hancock County Jail.

“I’ve been there forever,” said Townsend, who takes time off from his job as a truck driver to spend four days working the festival each year.

While he enjoys making and selling his scented soy candles, he mostly just loves hanging out and chatting with people.

“I like being a vendor because I’m a people person. I’ve got (former customers) who come to see me just to say hi, even if they don’t buy anything,” he said.

James said working the festival is a fun break from her regular job managing a Family Dollar store in Anderson.

“I’m used to working 10 to 12 hours a day at my regular job, so it’s not hard to work the festival all day,” she said.

The long hours are also profitable. James and her daughters use their Riley Festival profits to go on a family vacation each year.

James said she couldn’t begin to guess how many hours a week she spends sewing her products, which she said is a labor of love. “I just do it all the time. I tell everybody that’s how I stay productive and stay out of trouble. I’m always home sewing,” she said.

She keeps her sewing table in her dining room so she can multi-task by doing laundry and other household tasks. She loves to watch football while she works, and typically watches games or other programs on her iPad.

Hendrick makes her candles in her garage.

“I started out making them in my kitchen and it was just a holy disaster. It’s a messy job,” she said.

She typically makes candles in the evenings and weekends when she’s not working as an accounts manager for Adidas, but her longevity at her job scored her an extra four weeks off this year.

Of course, she’s been using the time to make candles.

“I love making candles. I really do,” she said.

Hendrick has been selling her candles on the festival circuit for years, sometimes working up to 20 festivals a year, but the Riley Festival is her favorite. She’s been attending the festival all her life.

Years ago she would make a habit of buying scented candles “by the case” from a local vendor. When that vendor looked to retire, she offered to sell the business to Hendrick. “It was quite pricey so I told myself ‘I’m just going to figure it out,’ and here we are 25 years later,” she said.

At first Hendrick used the profits to pay for Christmas gifts, and was eventually able to fund a Spring Break trip with her kids each year.

She now shares a booth with her husband, Ken Hendrick, who makes wood benches and rustic Indiana-themed signs out of barn tin. The couple also sells decorative gnomes, scarecrows and fall decor.

As for her candles, “I sell probably 20 to 25 dozen at the Riley Festival,” she said, which averages around $3,200.

While being a festival vendor can be lucrative, Hendrick said it’s not for everyone.

“I know several people who have tried it and didn’t like it for one reason or another. It’s a lot more work than people think it is,” she said, “but it’s very rewarding too.”


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