GRAFTON, Mass. — Kristie Proctor didn't intend to start a tradition 10 years ago when she organized the first Grafton Women's Night Out. She just wanted to give a few of her friends a venue to show off their home businesses.
That event spiraled over the years from 12 vendors at the Polish National Home to 45 at Millbury Street Elementary School on Friday night.
"We have some wonderfully creative stuff now," said Proctor, looking around the cafeteria filled with women. "Some of the vendors were here almost from the start. Every year, we have more people who want to be part of this."
You do not go to Women's Night Out merely to shop. Women came in groups, tasting cheese samples from Pecorino and chocolates from Anna Banana Homemade. Often, the shoppers and vendors greeted each other by name.
For Connie Esch, it was a chance to show off her new business, Sarah's Bow Closet. Inspired by her cheerleading daughter, Sarah, Esch makes sparkly bows that can hold up to the most rigorous cheer routine. She sells online and through word-of-mouth in the local cheering community.
"Our biggest seller right now is the breast cancer bow," Esch said, pointing out a model with a rhinestone breast cancer ribbon. "I've sold them as far away as Chicago."
A portion of the proceeds from that bow go to breast cancer survivor Lori Zinkus' Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.
Another newcomer was Nans Gordon, who handpaints floral designs on glass.
"It takes some time," she said as she arranged wine glasses with detailed lilies, sunflowers and other flowers cupping the bottom of the glass. "I do it in layers. The dots, the petals, the branch — it takes me about two hours to do a box of 24 and then I have to bake it."
Sarah and Phil Boyer, in their second year at Women's Night Out, are familiar figures. They also sell handmade bracelets and Kenyan bags at the Grafton Farmers Market and other local venues. A placard at the table showed the fruits of her labor: a new school in the small village of Kokoth Kateng, a poor community in western Kenya, funded by Boyer's Open Hearts and Minds Foundation.
"We now have 32 kids, all with uniforms, and we will have another 13 joining them in January," Sarah Boyer said. "More mouths to feed, more to sell, but it's worth it!"